40 runners aim to write their own piece of sporting history tomorrow when they line-up in the greatest steeplechase.
Expect thrills and spills as the field negotiate 30 fences such as the iconic Becher’s Brook, The Chair, Valentines, Foinavon and of course the Canal Turn.
Definitly Red bolted up in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster and that leaves him well-in following the reveal of the weights back in January. However the concern has to be surrounding his jumping in being fields. In he 14-runner Peter Marsh Chase he unseated Henry Brooke, albeit after being hampered, and prior to that he was a faller in the 4m race for Amateurs at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, which leaves the question about him coping with the hustle and bustle nature of this race.
Vieux Lion Rouge finished seventh in last year’s renewal and he returned here to start his campaign over these fences. In the Becher he ran on strongly to get the better of Highland Lodge. David Pipe’s charge followed that up with a bloodless success in the Grand National Trial at Haydock where once again he showed his relish for a marathon trip.
Two JP McManus runners next in the betting with Cheltenham Cross Country winner Cause Of Causes and Gold Cup sixth More Of That. The question for both is if this will come too soon after their excursions around four weeks ago. Jonjo O’Neill knows how to get one ready for the day, so don’t discount the latter while that successful run could have got the former cherry ripe and Jamie Codd remains in the saddle.
Ucello Conti completed in sixth last year and Gordon Elliot’s charge was another on my shortlist. He stays well enough to have a chance in this event.
He was fourth in this seasons Becher Chase and has also been second in the Thyestes, which has proved a useful trial in the past with Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde winning at Gowran Park and then winning the National a year later.
The question remains if his jumping will hold up late on as the tank starts to flash on empty.
On his Gold Cup effort then Saphir Du Rheu can’t be discounted too easily. He won as a novice at this meeting two years back and has always been highly thought of.
Given that Sam Twiston-Davies plotted a wide route around Cheltenham last time to give him a sight of his fences he still produced a strong enough finishing effort to suggest he’d see out the extra trip here, so hold place claims.
Paul Nicholls is chasing the trainers championship and he has a strong hand in this with five representatives. He won the race back in 2012 with Neptune Collonges and there is one I’m really sweet on.
First up is Vicente who triumphed in last year’s Scottish Grand National proving he has the stamina for this marathon test.
He was one I had lined up for the 4m Amateur race at Cheltenham where he finished fifth under Will Biddick and he may have been slightly closer if not being hampered by a loose horse, which knocked him off his stride.
At Ayr in the Scottish National he travelled smoothly and saw out the race in strong fashion to suggest he would go well in the Aintree showpiece.
His form this season has been sketchy in truth but he’s been competing at a consistently high level. A faller in the Hennessy then followed that up with a better round of jumping to finish sixth in the Welsh Grand National on soft ground.
Good to soft ground will be perfect for him plus it is noticeable that three-time Grand National winning owner Trevor Hemmings bought into him. Paul Nicholls has had this as his target since that Ayr win and off a nice racing weight he ticks plenty of boxes.
Highland Lodge has to be on everybody’s shortlist because he’s become somewhat of a specialist around here in the last couple of seasons.
James Moffatt’s 11 year old was the 2015 Becher Chase when given an uncomplicated ride by Henry Brooke. Ridden with prominence to avoid any sort of trouble he jumped well throughout and stayed on well to the line.
He ran flat when pulling up in the Scottish Grand National but he returned to the Becher Chase for his 2017 seasonal return and the cruellest of hands was dealt.
Given another good ride by Brooke in similar fashion to the previous year he was clear at the elbow but tied up in the closing stages to allow Vieux Lion Rouge, three years younger, to defeat him by a short head. Agony for connections!
Despite that narrow defeat it kept up his 100% record of completing around the National fences after finishing eighth in the very same race for previous trainer Emma Lavelle.
Don’t let the 126-day absence put you off because he goes really well fresh, as he’s proved around here in the Becher.
Younger types are proving to be the way forward with Many Clouds (8yo) and Rule The World (9yo) winning the last two renewals. But there is one at 12 that I’m happy to argue a case for and it’s not entirely out of the question. Vics Canvas was 100/1 third last year as a 13 year old and both Royal Athlete (1995) and Amberleigh House (2004) achieved the feat at this ripe old age.
Raz De Maree represents Gavin Cromwell and many will argue he’s getting a bit long in the tooth now but he is one that will stay. His previous visit to the Grand National came in 2014 when getting too far back before completing in eighth.
When he moved to Sandra Hughes he was second in the Midlands Grand National last year and once again he’s had a change of scenery.
He started this campaign with a solid second behind As De Pique at Gowran Park where a slight mistake took the wind out of his sails or else he’d given the winner something to think about.
The chestnut reversed that form when on better ground in the Cork Grand National and despite looking laboured with jumping errors he managed to edge out Forever Gold in what proved he had the appetite to fight it out. With similar ground conditions expected then that bodes well.
His run in the Welsh National also proved encouraging for this going within two lengths of Native River, who has proved to be a stout stayer this season. Once again he dug deep to prove he had it in him to hit the frame and in the end was 15 lengths clear of his nearest rival Houblon Des Obeaux.
After a 72-day break Cromwell sent him to Cork for a spin over hurdles just to freshen the legs and make sure he was A1 coming to Liverpool, so expect a bold bid from the 12 year old under Ger Fox.
Vicente (25/1 e-w)
Highland Lodge (25/1 e-w)
Raz De Maree (40/1 e-w)