2015 Crabbie’s Grand National preview
Lord Windermere is made more interesting than would otherwise be the case now that he sports a first-time visor in order to try rekindle a flame that has previously burned brightly enough to win an RSA Chase and a Cheltenham Gold Cup. A return to form would be welcome, but his trainer’s runners have been well below par for some time, he is set to shoulder top weight of 11st 10lbs, and the headgear may be more in desperation than anything.
Many Clouds has to go down in the ‘disappointment’ category judged on his Gold Cup run, when he appeared to have plenty going for him before the tape went up. He will not have his favoured soft ground here. However, he really is a classy sort and if you take the view that his Cheltenham run was more of a blip then you could make a strong case for him. With a hefty weight to lug around history is not on his side and mindful of that we will look elsewhere for the winner.
Although unproven over this far Unioniste shapes as though he will get home, especially if he goes as well on the spring ground as he does when it is deep. His form with Gold Cup winner Coneygree (beaten 10.5 lengths at Newbury in February) looks very good in the context of this race. You have to go back as far as Bogskar in 1940 to find the last seven-year-old to win the National and, although the seven-year-old has won here twice, neither has been over the bigger obstacles and it will be some feat if he proves good enough. Nonetheless, at around 25/1 there is worse value to be had in the contest.
Paul Nicholls has a shorter-priced runner in Rocky Creek, who has been trained to the minute. The yard’s runners have had a really good first two days so we know that they are in-form, plus he has previous experience over the National fences when fifth to Pineau De Re in last year’s race. However, he didn’t appear to get home that day, weakening soon after the last on ground that would probably have suited him better, so he looks worth taking on at the price.
Last year’s winner renews rivalry with runner-up Balthazar King. The latter should again give Richard Johnson a really good spin and could again finish in the money. He is 5lbs better off for a five-length defeat 12-months ago, though Dr Richard Newland’s charge appear to have all of that in hand. Cannily campaigned over hurdles this season, connections will hope that Aintree will bring out the best in him again. He bids to be the first since the greatest of all Grand National horses, Red Rum, to win it for a second time.
There are others among the classier horses in the field who merit consideration. First Lieutenant has run second in two Cheltenham Festival Grade Ones in the past, represents a yard in good form, and carries on his back a lady from a family with great Aintree history.
Nina Carberry – Grand family success
Nina Carberry, sister of ’99 winning pilot Paul and daughter of ’75 winner Tommy, would make world news if she becomes the first female ever to ride the winner of the race. The horse, who was good enough to win the Betfred Bowl from a mark of 168 here two years ago, is now a stone lower in the handicap, but if he takes to this place then he could be absolutely thrown in.
As a potential Grand National fairytale, it is a tough call between that story and the one that involves the great Anthony Peter McCoy. The tributes have rightly been incessant since the 20-times champion jockey announced in February that he would retire at the end of this season. Subsequently, jumps racing’s most successful pilot of all time has said that a second National victory would mean that he would call it a day immediately.
It seems surreal that his adoring fans might never actually see him ride again after around 4.25pm on Saturday April 11th, but a look at the chance of the horse makes that a distinct possibility. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill is rarely vocal about the chance of his horses in the way that he has been about Shutthefrontdoor. According to the man who prepared Don’t Push It to provide McCoy with his long-awaited 2010 National win, the favourite is in superb form at home. A very fine stamp of a chaser whose best looks very much still to come, the eight-year-old has not been seen on the racecourse since a Carlisle success in November. His stamina over this far has to be proven on the day, but last year’s Irish National winner jumps really well and has won on a sound surface. With money likely to pour on due to the ‘McCoy factor’, he is unlikely to represent value. Even so, provided he handles the occasion after a four-month break, he looks a major player.
Ballycasey has been struggling for some form on his last three starts, but he is a classy sort on his day and has won on decent ground. His stamina has to be of concern, but there is no one better at preparing a runner for a big race than Willie Mullins, while Ruby Walsh is a past master in this contest and you will have to wait a long time to see this exalted partnership combine with a 40/1 chance again.
The ground is not in favour of Spring Heeled, while he is another saddled by out-of-form Jim Culloty, who won this from the plate on Bindaree over a decade ago. Last year’s fourth Alvarado and sixth Chance Du Roy are back for another crack. The latter seems better here than just about anywhere else and another good performance looks on the cards, while the former races from the same mark as last year and there is no reason why he can’t give Paul Moloney another good spin.
Rubi Light has got to be a doubtful stayer over this marathon trip, while The Package and Across The Bay have had stronger claims in earlier renewals. Conditions will suit Night In Milan, who would be a shorter price if the great race was staged at Doncaster. He stays very well and looks to have claims of picking up some prize money for the Reveleys.
A win for Oscar Time would write another remarkable chapter in the story of this race. Not that the National is any stranger to amateur-ridden success, but this would surely poll higher than any other Corinthian-partnered victor. Jockey Sam Waley-Cohen knows this track better than anyone, having won around big fences more times than any other in history. For him, however, success in this stellar steeplechase has thus-far proved elusive. There will be no pressure on him, riding a 14-year-old who has finished both runner-up (2011) and fourth (2013) in this race, for his permit-holder father Robert. His best chance surely looks to have long gone, but this is Aintree and we have seen what happens at this magical racecourse. Success would make him the second-oldest horse to win the great race after 15-year-old Peter Simple in 1853.
On paper, both The Druids Nephew and Cause of Causes have better chances. Although he has performed well on softer ground, Neil Mulholland-trained The Druids Nephew also has winning form on good spring going and although he hasn’t won beyond 3m 4f, he looks likely to relish this test. His win in Cheltenham’s hugely competitive 3m 1f handicap chase at last month’s festival looks a really good pointer to his chances here. Supporters will hope that it has not taken the edge off him going into this.
Cause Of Causes is another seven-year-old and he was also a Cheltenham scorer last time, coming from off the pace to land the National Hunt Chase over four miles. He relishes decent ground and represents previous winners in Gordon Elliott (trained Silver Birch to land the prize in 2007) and Paul Carberry, though consistency has been a problem. A tongue tie and cheekpieces are retained.
A lively outsider could be Saint Are, though the National is not littered with winners whose most recent success had been at Catterick and at three or four times the price, former Eider Chase winner Portrait King makes as much appeal. The 10-year-old’s recent form has been reasonably good, he stays forever and has a good ground win to his name. If there is to be another big-priced winner this time then he would be on the radar.
Court By Surprise would want plenty of overnight rain to enable him to complete a hat-trick in fine style and of the feather weights, Soll makes most appeal. David Pipe won this race with Comply Or Die (2008) and carrying just 10st 2lbs has got to be a plus around here. The Presenting gelding has had issues with bursting blood vessels, which is a concern, though he has been a revelation since leaving Jo Hughes for Nicholashayne in the autumn, winning both subsequent starts. He would ideally want a bit of cut in the ground but nonetheless looks likely to be a major player.
Although not the race it once was, the Crabbies Grand National still takes plenty of winning. With luck in running it would be wonderful to see A P McCoy hang up his boots after a win on Shutthefrontdoor but the more experienced First Lieutenant can take command. ‘Mouse’ Morris’s classy gelding can provide the Grand National with its first female-ridden winner in history, Nina Carberry, who can become the third member of her family to have her name inscribed on the Aintree roll of honour.
1. First Lieutenant
3. Many Clouds
5. Cause Of Causes
First Lieutenant – Class will out
Photo of Nina Carberry courtesy of www.goracing.ie. Photo of First Lieutenant courtesy of www.independent.co.uk.