2018 Grand National preview
by David Cormack
Much is made of the changing nature of the Grand National. Changes to the make up of the fences, the improved management of the ground and the influence the handicapper has had with the policy of compressing the weights to the perceived advantage of the better quality horses have unquestionably altered the complexion of the race.
Those changes haven’t altered the popularity of the race though and it remains the event that racing relies on to thrust itself into the public spotlight each year.
Finding the winner has arguably become tougher of late and in the last six years only One For Arthur (14/1) has started at a lower price than 25/1.
That is not to say it hasn’t been won by some good horses. Neptune Collonges, Many Clouds and Rule The World had Grade 1 form on their CVs and it is fair to say that with the race arguably, and paradoxically given the price of the winners, relying less on luck these days you require a horse with a fair bit of quality to win it.
Anibale Fly falls into that category. A staying-on third in the Gold Cup last time (beaten 8 1/2 lengths) he has plenty high class form in the book. He beat Ucello Conti in good style at Leopardstown in the Paddy Power Chase at Christmas time in the style of a horse that’d be suited even better by further and he confirmed that impression at Cheltenham. That form gives him a major chance here and he’s the form pick. He’s priced accordingly though and I think there may be better value elsewhere.
Raz De Maree also represents Ireland and flies the flag for the veteran brigade. Now 13 years old, he’d be the first of that age to win in almost a century (since Sergeant Murphy in 1923) although four 12 year olds have won in the last forty years. His credentials rely on his ability to excel in a long distance slog in soft/heavy ground. He has been second and first in the last two renewals of the Welsh National, facing a very stiff task against Native River when runner up. He ran in this last year but unseated at Bechers. Granted a clear round (no certainty in his case as he has some jumping frailties) there will be few better equipped to last that last mile, particularly if today’s rain gets into the ground .
Another older horse (12) Gas Line Boy was fifth in this last year, holding every chance two out but fading on the long run in. He can go well again and has been lightly raced this year by his shrewd trainer, presumably with a repeat crack at this in mind, but he’s 4lbs higher this time and I think there will be one or two that will be better handicapped.
Runner up in two Becher Chases and a Grand National The Last Samuri was disappointing in this last year and although he had a decent prep when third in the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham festival, he’s a full 10lbs higher in the handicap than when runner up in 2016 and that may find him out again, as it did last year.
The Cross Country at the festival was the route Cause of Causes took last year before finishing runner up here. His trainer, Gordon Elliott, has taken the same route with Tiger Roll and he has extremely strong credentials. A grade 1 winner over hurdles, he’s built a very strong record at the Cheltenham Festival, winning three times. His win in the four miler at that venue last year confirmed his stamina credentials, he jumps well and his handicap mark looks fair. He is capable of travelling well through his races and is with a handler who may well have targeted this for some time with him. He’s definitely one for the short list.
Last year’s third Blaklion, now top weight following the defection of Minella Rocco, is game and can run his usual good race. He will find conceding weight all round a tough ask though .
The value bet in this, I think, may be ALPHA DES OBEAUX (40/1). Trained in Ireland by Mouse Morris, who trained 2016 winner Rule the World for the same owners, Alpha Des Obeaux has a similar profile to his Grand National winning predecessor. He was a useful staying hurdler, not quite at the top but pretty close to it, before a chasing career which hasn’t really taken off. Unlike Rule The World prior to his Grand National win, Alpha Des Obeaux has won a chase, three in fact, but he’s struggled a bit to really make an impact at the top level.
But he has dropped plenty hints in his chasing career that he has ability. He was fourth in the RSA Chase in 2017 to Might Bite, despite a broken blood vessel. He gave weight and a beating to Balko Des Flo (subsequent Ryanair Chase winner) at Clonmel in a Grade 2 chase in November.
He’s 17lbs better off with Total Recall (vying for favouritism here) for a seven length beating earlier this season and he has had an ideal ’quiet’ prep for this with a fourth over hurdles (in the race won by Presenting Percy prior to his RSA triumph) and a run in the Irish Gold Cup (never really got into it).
The cards will need to drop right for him and a lot will depend how he settles and travels but all that, and more, is factored into the value I think he is at the price.
And what a famous win it will be if he does win it because he’s ridden by Irish female professional Rachael Blackmore. She is a talented rider, more than capable of competing with the best of the male jockeys, so we should have no worries on that score. What a day it will be if she were to win it, and I think she has a pretty fair chance of doing so on a horse who fits the big price / Grade 1 form profile highlighted in the opening of the summary.
- ALPHA DES OBEAUX (current price 40/1)
- Tiger Roll (14/1)
- Anibale Fly (12/1)
- Raz De Maree (25/1)