Willie Mullins won the Grand National in 2005 with Hedgehunter, and the Irishman will be hoping for more success in 2022 with Melon, one of eight horses still in the latest declarations for Aintree.
The former Grade One raider has finished in the frame in some of the biggest races in National Hunt racing, and his latest victory at Gowran Park may have been enough to convince his connections to take his chance in the Grand National.
Since making his debut under National Hunt rules at Leopardstown, Melon has featured at trips between 2m-3m1½f throughout his career. He has finished second in the Champion Hurdle (twice), Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Marsh Novices’ Chase, so he has been an unlucky horse at the Festival.
Now at the age of 10, Melon could be set for his toughest test yet in the feature race of the meeting. He is 100/1 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting, which indicates he is an outsider for the Blue Riband event of the meeting.
Whatever happens at Cheltenham, the Grand National may now be a primary target for the campaign for the talented chaser. With a mark of 163, he has been handed an allocation of 11st 6lb. Only fellow Gold Cup rivals Conflated and Galvin will carry more weight at Aintree.
Melon Has Not Lacked Speed Throughout His Career
The majority of Melon’s success so far has come at much shorter distances than the ones he is encountering now. He has had a lot of speed, which is how he has finished runner-up in two Champion Hurdles, behind Buveur D’Air and Espoir D’Allen.
The former French raider began his career on the Flat, so to line up in the Grand National, the world’s most famous steeplechase, over the marathon distance of 4m2½f, would be an incredible transformation.
Melon is 40/1 in the Grand National betting. He has featured at the meeting before, but never over the larger obstacles at the Merseyside racecourse. His trainer will be very aware of what his horse is capable of, so if the Irishman does feel he will relish the test of the race, his judgement has to be taken on trust.
No Horse Since Neptune Collonges Has won With 11st 6lb
The stats in the Grand National are against Melon and the horses above him in this year’s weights. Only Neptune Collonges has been able to win the contest with 11st 6lb or more on their back since 1977.
Paul Nicholls’ grey prevailed in a photo-finish in 2012, scoring by just a nose. The horse has featured in four Cheltenham Gold Cup renewals before his victory at Aintree. He had also been successful in three Grade One races, with his most notable win coming at the Punchestown Festival.
Going further back in history, Red Rum won his Grand National in 1977 with a weight allocation of 11st 8lb, while in 1974, the Aintree legend scored with a top weight of 12st, arguably the most impressive performance in the race’s history.
If Melon can cause a surprise in the Grand National this year, it will rank as one of Mullins’ most satisfying victories. This horse has often missed out on major glory, so perhaps he deserves his moment of glory, and there is no bigger occasion to do it than in the Aintree feature.