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Grand National Preview: Can Many Clouds Make Hay While the Sun Shines?
The dust may have settled on the Cheltenham Festival after a particularly good week for punters, prostate but the wallet-to-pocket ratio will remain temporarily sparse due to the upcoming Grand National meeting of early April.
Naturally attention has now turned to Aintree, for sale with eagle-eyed punters looking for pointers from this year’s Gold Cup renewal to guide them towards National Hunt racing’s most talked-about battle.
While not a pre-requisite, price a decent run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup can often point to success just a matter of weeks later, with last year’s Grand National winner, Many Clouds, recording a respectable sixth in the festival’s feature race a month or so prior.
While Don Cossack and Djakadam may not be in the field, Don Poli, who finished third in the Gold Cup, has been added to the early ante-post reckoning. What was most eye-catching about that showing was that he appeared to finish stronger than he started; a key trait for any potential Grand National winner. With such a strong track record over longer distances and a past win at Aintree to call upon, this Willie Mullins trained horse could well contend and at 25/1 looks great early value.
Another horse who stayed on well despite pressure in the Gold Cup was Carlingford Lough, who started as a 25/1 outsider. He’ll go into the National at a similar price following a decent run at Cheltenham in which he powered home in fourth after languishing in midfield with two to jump.
Of the other Gold Cup entrants who have been supplemented here, neither O’Faolains Boy nor On His Own (both 40/1) enhanced their prospects following rather tepid outings in seventh and eighth respectively.
While Don Poli and Carlingford Lough will surely garner plenty of punters’ interest in the coming weeks, it is the trio at the head of the ante-post market that has witnessed the most money exchanging hands.
Most will be hoping that favourite Many Clouds (12/1) can become the first horse since Red Rum to secure back-to-back Grand National wins. Jockey Leighton Aspell will be looking to secure a unique hat-trick of his own following last year’s victory and the 2014 triumph on board Pineau De Re, although one caveat is that the nine-year-old will carry top weight once again. It wasn’t an impediment last year, but few 11-10 runners have excelled in the big race in recent years.
One runner who continues to dumbfound is Silviniaco Conti (12/1). A horse with obvious class, his results very rarely reflect the fact as an inconsistent string of form reading 7-1-2-2-PU-1 frustratingly testifies. But victories over stretches of 25f – including a pair of wins in the highly-regarded King George VI Chase – suggests he has the legs and lungs for the big occasion, and back-to-back wins at the Grand National meeting suggest he likes the unique conditions that tend to prevail.
And then there’s The Last Samuri (14/1), who has been trained as something of a long-distance specialist. Six of his eight victories have come over marks of 24f and greater, and that kind of form simply cannot be ignored.
The stats are compelling: only five bookmakers’ favourites have won the Grand National in the past 20 years. Indeed, in the last five renewals the average price of the winner has been a shade over 32/1. So, there’s plenty to excite punters about the longer-priced options that offer huge each way value.
One such beast is Saint Are (25/1), who finished second in last year’s renewal and ninth in 2013. That’s the kind of record that suggests this French-bred horse has a taste for success at Aintree, and a decent win at Doncaster last time out in a Class 2 suggests the form is there to mount an assault.
If we’re seeking ‘horses for courses’ then few offer a better option than Alvarado (40/1). Despite an unremarkable career up until this point, the Irish powerhouse has finished in the money places in the last two reprisals of this race – great news for each way punters.
Of the last five Grand National winners, four have been aged ten or over at the time of their triumph and weighed over 10-05. So if we are using these figures as a yardstick, Sir Des Champs (40/1) looks a viable selection. With 12 finishes in the money from 17 starts – and Willie Mullins keeping a keen eye on progress – the omens are good for this ten-year-old. Recent defeats to Don Poli and Carlingford Lough will be enough to put off some, however.
Another from the Mullins yard that will be fancied is Valseur Lido (50/1), who was so impressive in finishing second to Vautour in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. The bad news for punters is that in his last three starts over a distance of greater than 20f this horse’s record reads 1-F-UR. Not a glittering résumé of long distance action, then.