A preview of the Aintree Festival feature by Hector Steiff
Who’s Going to win the Grand National? That’s the question I get asked more than any other. An occupational hazard, I suppose. Like a Policeman being asked the time. I’ve already been asked ten times this morning and there’s still five days to go!
Well, the good news. I’ve managed to narrow it down to a final shortlist of……..forty!! Because anyone can win the Grand National, and the Irish Grand National was won by a 150/1 shot on Easter Monday, just to prove that point. But, to be more serious, who’s going to win the Grand National?
In truth, this race has become a top class handicap with a much tighter spread than was the case in the last century. It also used to be said that you could win the Grand National with a good two and a half mile chaser. That is no longer true, there is no hiding place on the two laps of the Aintree circuit to give your mount a breather. It has become a fiercely competitive handicap in its present form.
The reasons for this include many changes to the course to make the fences safer. This is to be applauded, and, with racing welfare a hot topic in recent weeks, long may that trend continue. Come Saturday, the greatest steeplechase in the world, watched universally, is the showpiece of a superb three day festival, where the best outcome of all should be an absence of racing fatalities.
Today’s race needs any potential winner to be able to jump those unique fences, have the stamina for the gruelling four miles and two furlongs and keep something in reserve for that finishing dash after turning the elbow. Add to that a huge slice of luck not to be derailed by any other fallers or loose horses and you have your Grand National winner!
After the Cheltenham Festival, one thing became startlingly clear – Irish dominance in the National Hunt arena. With some bookmakers throwing in the towel and paying out on bets on the Prestbury Cup halfway through the four day festival, the divide in quality between the home team and the Irish raiders could not have been starker.
Once again, the Irish have a formidable team for Saturday’s highlight. The green and gold hoops of one JP McManus seem sure to feature at the head of affairs with Any Second Now, Minella Times and Kimberlite Candy all sporting the famous silks.
After the dominance of Rachael Blackmore at the Cheltenham Festival, she will surely attract plenty of support aboard Minella Times whose second in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas showed that the stamina factor of the equation was answered. Having raced exclusively on the other side of the Irish Sea these fences would be a new experience for the eight year old but he has remarkably completed in all eighteen starts under rules.
Any Second Now, running out of Ted Walsh’s stables at Kill in County Kildare, brings a team with plenty of Grand National experience to the table; Ted having trained Papillon to take the prize in 2000. There is a strong family link to the race as Ted Walsh’s son, Ruby, won the race not only on Papillon but on the Willie Mullins trained Hedgehunter five years later, while daughter Katie remains the best placed female jockey after finishing third in 2012.
Winner of the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 on his only trip across the Irish Sea, Any Second Now will find these fences a new challenge but has claims with this race his season’s target. His weight of 10st 9lbs looks ideal for the profile of a Grand National winner in this era and he’s sure to be involved granted a clear round.
The third runner in the green and gold hoops is Kimberlite Candy, who hails from closer to the Aintree home of the Grand National, coming from Tom Lacey’s Cottage Field Stables in Woolhope, deep in rural Herefordshire. Kimberlite Candy has plenty going for him having twice been runner up in the Becher Chase here, which is run over the National fences. If he can see out the extra mile, the nine year old gelding of Flemensfirth could be the answer having never fallen under rules.
Of course, with dual winner and defending champion Tiger Roll not making a repeat visit this year, the runner up in 2019, the last year the race was run, Magic Of Light has to enter calculations. Remarkably, she has never fallen in thirty-five starts under rules but does need to put a below par effort in the Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival behind her.
Possibly the strongest of the Irish raiders is Burrows Saint from Willie Mullins all conquering Closutton base. Another solid jumper, the French import has been laid out for this race and with the Irish Grand National under his belt should be able to see out the trip. With Willie Mullins at the top of his game on both sides of the Irish Sea in this National Hunt season, Burrows Saint joins the final shortlist
Ante post favouritism has gone to Jonjo O’Neill’s Cloth Cap who looks a few pounds well in running from his allocated weight of 10st 5lb. Arriving here on a hat-trick bid, the Beneficial gelding could not have looked more impressive at Kelso last month with this race being the aim for the season. Tom Scudamore’s mount has the stamina for this having completed the Scottish National over a similar trip but has to prove he can cope with two circuits here over the National fences.
Evan Williams’ Secret Reprieve won the Welsh Grand National at a canter and makes appeal; he’ll not be short of stamina but does tend to produce his best when there’s more cut in the ground. Top weight Bristol De Mai has proven he is not just a Haydock specialist when second to Native River in the Cotswold Chase, held at Sandown this year, but the nature of this handicap event does make it a big ask from his 11st 10lb weight on quicker ground.
Having missed the world’s most famous steeplechase last year due to the suspension of racing, it will be momentous return to the spectacle of the Grand National on Saturday afternoon. Having to pin your colours to the mast, as it were and declare the winner, I can categorically state that the winner will be wearing green!
Of course, Cloth Cap wears the green and white quarters of Trevor Hemmings, Magic of Light, runner up in 2019, runs in the green and gold of Ann & Alan Potts while Any Second Now, Kimberlite Candy and Minella Times run in the green and gold hoops of JP McManus. Even Burrows Saint has green spots on Rich Ricci’s pink silks.
Who’s going to win the Grand National. Something in green, but Minella Times, Kimberlite Candy and Cloth Cap have plenty in their favour. Hope to pick one of these out of the sweepstake and you’ll be shouting until the finish!
This preview has been brought to you by our regular correspondent, Hector Steiff