by DAVID DONALDSON. WHEN the weights for the first £1million Grand National were published earlier this month, the ever-popular Tidal Bay received a handicap mark 7lb below his official rating. Based on the 13-year-old’s most recent runs, Tidal Bay has a good chance of success at Aintree this April and is now carrying less relative weight than when he competed at the Welsh National last December, where he finished in a close third. He also recently finished second in the Grade One Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, proving himself a worthy favourite.
“He’s been top weight the last three times he has run in handicaps and put up really good performances,” said trainer Paul Nicholls. “He’s been given the chance [by the handicapper] off 2lb lower than the Welsh National and we’ve taken him out of the Gold Cup so we can train him very much for the National.
“He couldn’t do both and we want to give it our best for Aintree. We’re very much looking forward to it. He’s our main challenger without a doubt.”
The first nine horses in the list of weights will be carrying less weight at Aintree than suggested by their official rating. At 7lb below his official rating, Tidal Bay will benefit the most, as former Gold Cup winner Long Run is only 3lb off his official mark and the next seven runners only 1lb off.
However, despite his chances, Tidal Bay will be attempting the first top-weight win since Red Rum, as well as trying to become the oldest National winner since 13-year-old Sergeant Murphy in 1923. Before him, fellow 13-year-old Why Not won in 1894. The only older horse to have ever won the National was 15-year-old Peter Simple all the way back in 1853.
In addition to this challenge, Tidal Bay will have to face stiff competition from other leading contenders, which include Welsh National winner Mountainous, Teaforthree, who was third home behind Auroras Encore last season, and Nicky Henderson’s contender Triolo D’Alene.
Henderson has yet to win the National but his French breed is one of the most interesting contenders and, according to odds-comparison site Free Bets, “is shaping up as a true Grand National contender this season”. Alongside Triolo D’Alene who’s set to run at 11st 6lb, Henderson is also entering Long Run and Hunt Ball, who are ranked second and third in weights.
“One thing I was worried about [before Triolo D’Alene won the Hennessy in November] was stamina. He jumped beautifully in the Topham Chase [over two miles and five furlongs of the National course] last year and the Hennessy was a bit of a test, but he certainly stuck his head down and stayed really well,” said Henderson.
“We’re a long way behind [Paul Nicholls in the trainer’s championship] but to have a million pound race under National Hunt rules is absolutely unbelievable.”