James Knight’s Weekly Wrap Grand National special
It’s that week of the year when friends and relatives ask racing fans that dreaded question – “Who is going to win the Grand National?”
Normally the most sensible policy is to tip a different horse to everyone you speak to – it’s certainly the best way of ensuring that at least someone might think you have a clue what you are talking about come Saturday evening. One thing is for sure – if anyone tells you they have a confident selection for the race this year, then they are either a fool or a liar – possibly both.
The first thing to state is that the Grand National has changed. No longer do the fences provide that ultimate jumping test. Indeed, if you watched Thursday’s Fox Hunters’ Chase for amateur jockeys over the National course, you may have noted that not a single horse fell in the race. You may also have noticed that Becher’s Brook is now pretty much ‘just another’ fence. Some traditionalists may complain that the race has lost its character and is now too easy for both horse and rider, but to survive in the 21st century, the race absolutely needed to change and I think this safer version should ensure that the millions of once a year punters can enjoy the race for many years to come.
Anyway, back to the race itself. I reckon you could run it ten times and get ten completely different results based on luck and the way the race unfolds. But enough excuses – here are my four to fill the frame in the big race tomorrow.
Teaforthree has a tick in pretty much every box this year. Last year’s third clearly loves the National fences, he’s in form and arrives on a lower mark than twelve months ago. If there is a nagging worry, it is that his highly creditable effort in the Gold Cup might just have knocked the edge off him. However, the Rebecca Curtis yard remain confident they have him spot on. A worthy favourite.
3. MR MOONSHINE
Mr Moonshine is trained Sue Smith and ridden by Ryan Mania, and it was that partnership who of course won the race last season with Aurora’s Encore. He lacks a bit of the class of some at the head of the weights, but he ran a really nice trial for this race when staying on into third in the Becher Chase and is capable of running into the frame here.
2. ROCKY CREEK
Rocky Creek has a touch of class about him and has been laid out for this race by his trainer, Paul Nicholls. His Hennessy form when chasing home Triolo D’Alene was strong and there could still be more to come from this 8yo. He lacks experience over these fences but has always been a strong traveller and a sound jumper, so should in theory be a perfect type for the National.
Alvarado is yet to tackle a marathon trip, but he is a half brother to Character Building (who seemed to stay forever) and appeals as a horse who could improve for this test of stamina, especially as he only has to carry 10 stone 2lb tomorrow. His disappointing effort in January when last seen could prove to be a blessing in disguise as connections gave him a break subsequently and he arrives at Aintree a fresh horse. His run prior to that when winning over 3 miles 4f at Cheltenham is the effort that really catches the eye. That day he had the subsequent Cleeve Hurdle winner, Knockara Beau, behind him, in addition to leading National fancy Monbeg Dude and subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner, Spring Heeled. In short it reads like a very strong piece of staying handicap form. Paul Moloney gave him a peach of a ride that day and he is on board again tomorrow. With a bit of luck in running, Alvarado can give his supporters plenty to cheer about at an attractive price.
No Way Just fluked it
Back to the flat and last week’s Dubai World Cup night certainly whetted the appetite for the season ahead. The main race, won by African Story, may not have been a vintage renewal but there were some excellent performances elsewhere on the card – a fantastic success for Jamie Osborne and Toast Of New York in the UAE Derby, a display of raw speed from Amber Sky in the Al Quoz and brilliance from the Japanese mare, Gentildonna in the Sheema Classic. The performance of the night, however, surely came in the Dubai Duty Free where the Japanese raider, Just A Way, posted a mind blowing 6¼ length win.
Normally one’s reaction to such a performance is that it has to be too good to be true and it is certainly the case that some of Just A Way’s European opponents – the likes of Dank and The Fugue – ran below their best on their seasonal reappearances. However, the clock does not lie and Just A Way posted an incredible time of 1m 45.52s, smashing the previous record by 2.41 seconds. Yes, the turf was riding fast, but only a truly world class performer can produce such a number. Some judges compared the effort to that of Gladiatorus, who won the same race in a similar style in 2009 before (spectacularly) failing to reproduce the form outside of Dubai. The problem with that comparison is that Just A Way has already shown brilliant form in Japan and this effort, combined with his 4 length defeat of Gentildonna last Autumn, suggest that he is probably the best racehorse in the world at the moment.
The brilliant Arc winner, Treve and her connections might have something to say about that of course. Unfortunately Royal Ascot is not a meeting that the Japanese target traditionally, but apparently a potential clash between the two in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes has not been ruled out. We at Coral priced the potential match at 4/6 Just A Way and 11/10 Treve, but many would have the prices the other way around. Regardless, every racing fan will just be hoping that this is a race we all get to see.
WEEKEND NAP It is always hard to weigh up unexposed horses against those with more form in the book, as it is very difficult to know how much potential improvement they might be capable of. Such a problem exists in the International Trial Stakes (3.40 Lingfield) where impressive maiden winner SLOANE AVENUE takes on Barley Mow, who is rated some 18lb higher than him. What we do know is that Jeremy Noseda’s horse was incredibly impressive on debut and recorded a very similar level of form to that posted by Barley Mow on his first start. Now, Barley Mow has obviously improved significantly on that, but given the vibes surrounding Sloane Avenue (Noseda apparently works him with highly rated older horses like Grandeur), my hunch is that he could prove to be every bit as good, if not better, than Barley Mow.
WEEKEND BISMARCK – AT FISHERS CROSS (2.50 Aintree) was an impressive winner over this course and distance last season, but I think he is opposable tomorrow. His third in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham was the first time he has really got his act together this season and while that form entitles him to be favourite, he wouldn’t be a horse to trust at a short price. Zarkandar, who finished one place behind him at Cheltenham, has claims of reversing the form – remember, he was good enough to beat The New One at this track last season. Plus, there is a decent supporting cast of Thousand Stars, Salubrious, Whisper and Melodic Rendezvous, who all have the ability to mix it with At Fishers Cross on their best form.