THIS fallow period between Cheltenham and Aintree always feels like being in no man’s land. The dreams of so many were dashed at Prestbury Park but the 2017 Grand National meeting always offers a chance of redemption and compensation for the vanquished. The Aintree Festival starts on April 6, or two weeks on Thursday. For some horses, the Grand National comes too quick after Cheltenham but not for all. Some animals, such as Many Clouds and Don’t Push It, won the National after running a few weeks earlier at Cheltenham. Below are five horses who ran well at the Cheltenham Festival and who could very well make their presence felt in the 2017 Grand National…
MINELLA ROCCO: A splendid second in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, this scopey seven-year-old has huge potential and might even win jump racing’s blue riband one day. Bookmaker reaction was to make him the clear ante-post favourite for the National for which he is set to carry 11st 6lb. But he is not a certain runner, and although Jonjo O’Neill has said he will run again this season, it may not necessarily be in the Grand National. Connections may feel that a bit more time and another year of experience under his belt could be the answer before he tackles the big fences. However, he definitely stays four miles (he won the 4m National Hunt Chase in 2016) and he may never be in better shape for a crack at the National. He is best priced 11/1 but make sure to back him non runner no bet if you go down the ante-post route.
CAUSE OF CAUSES: Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old completed the remarkable achievement of winning at his third successive Cheltenham Festival in three different races. Jamie Codd gets on famously with this horse who has an attractive racing weight of 10st 12lb in the Grand National (rating of 150). He was eighth to Many Clouds in the 2015 National off a mark of 146 when he never really got into the race. The horse comes alive in the spring and loves good ground. Codd has ridden him in all his Cheltenham wins and if he was to get the ride in the National then the 20/1 available could look like excellent value.
THE YOUNG MASTER: Ran a solid race to be sixth in the Ultima Handicap Chase and, like Cause Of Causes, is on a rating of 150 in the National. Sam Waley-Cohen will be his likely pilot and not many riders have a better record around the National fences. He will arrive at Aintree fresh after a light campaign although he did come down in the Becher Chase when well beaten.
SAPHIR DU RHEU: Ran a career best in the Gold Cup when staying on to finish fifth, beaten just over six lengths by Sizing John. He is still only eight and has been campaigned lightly this season and he may just be the right type (i.e slightly unpredictable) to take to the big fences and relish the unique challenge of the National.
PENDRA: Came agonisingly close to giving Charlie Longsdon his maiden winner at the Cheltenham Festival when mugged close home by 40/1 outsider Domesday Book. He was 13th in last year’s National when blundering at the Canal Turn second time and then seemingly getting tired and being heavily eased. He would be running off a similar mark if goes again this year and would come into the reckoning if the ground was good.
The world’s greatest steeplechase is a conundrum and you should take any help on offer to pick the Grand National winner. Whether it’s Minella Rocco or last year’s runner-up The Last Samuri, age, weight, experience over the big fences and ability to handle certain ground conditions are all worth taking into account. But one thing you will have no control over on the big day is… lady luck!