Commander can emerge imperious

John Smith’s Grand National 2013 (Saturday, April 6)

2011 winner Ballabriggs could never get into the race last year, despite finishing a very respectable sixth. He is now 8lbs lower than 12 months ago, meaning he carries only 2lbs more than when successful. He showed he can still perform when going well at Kelso last time out and he will appreciate some decent ground for the first time this season.

History shows that the last horse to regain the National crown was the incomparable Red Rum (1977), but given his connections, if any horse is to write his own chapter in the sport then it could be Ballabriggs. Stablemate Weird Al is a very talented horse on his day, but he has failed to complete too often to be backed with any confidence over these big fences.

Big Fella Thanks has finished 6th, 4th and 7th in the great race in the past. He comes here in decent form and at 40/1 will interest some each-way players, but he seems to tread water up that long run-in.

Conditions won’t hold any fears for Teaforthree, who should see out the trip and can go very well. He has, however, been deserted by A P McCoy, who will sport the same silks of J P McManus as when recording his 2010 success on Don’t Push It, though this time aboard Colbert Station. The Ted Walsh-trained nine-year-old is a gutsy performer, which won’t do him any harm if he gets involved at the business end. Most of his winning form has been on deep ground, so that would have to be a concern for backers, while he has yet to be tried over such an extreme trip.

Having said that, the champion jockey has ridden him to three of his five career wins and he must feel that he has the right sort of credentials for this grueling test. Between them, McCoy and dual former winning jockey Ruby Walsh will have had the pick of the crop here, so the latter’s decision to ride On His Own could be very significant.

Paul Townend was on board last year when the partnership crashed out at Becher’s on the second circuit, when still travelling well in third. That run has clearly not been lost on former dual winner Walsh (Papillon, Hedgehunter) and as a previous winner on good ground the Presenting gelding is one of the leading hopes of Ireland. Another is Seabass, partnered by Ruby’s sister Katie and trained by father Ted. The 10-year-old looked a likely winner last year when jumping the second-last in front, but he was headed at the elbow by Neptune Collonges and ended up five lengths adrift at the line. Any rain before the race would help his cause and what a story it would be if he could carry his talented pilot to an unprecedented success.

Evan Williams has the right sort of horse to go close again in Cappa Bleu, who was seven lengths adrift of Seabass in 4th last year and is now 7lbs better off. That was the only time that the lightly-raced 10-year-old has finished outside the first three in any completed chase, so it’s no surprise that he is trading at around the 12/1 mark.

Chicago Grey hails from the Gordon Elliott stable, successful in the race with Silver Birch (2007). Another 10-year-old, this Luso gelding is actually 2lbs lower than when scoring at Navan last time, so proving his wellbeing, and fully 9lbs lower than when brought down at the fifth flight 12 months ago. No wonder then, that he is shorter than the 20/1 that he started that day. He acts on the ground and won the four-miler at Cheltenham a couple of seasons ago. If he gets home here he looks to have a major chance.

Oscar Time ran second to Ballabriggs in 2011, but has not been the same horse since and of more interest is Always Waining, who finally gets a crack at the big one, after winning for three successive years over the National fences in the shorter Topham Trophy (2m 5.5f). He looks sure to give a good account despite his advancing years, but with Aintree form factored in to the weights here, he looks to have plenty to do from 6lbs higher than in last year’s Topham win.

A good run from There’s No Panic in Friday’s Topham might see the 33/1 on offer about Soll disappear. Jo Hughes’s eight-year-old finished five lengths ahead of There’s No Panic at Sandown last time. There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, so he may well see out the trip. He does have it to prove on this faster ground, while he is also relatively inexperienced, but he cannot be ruled out with a feather weight to shoulder.

If there is to be a shock, then Lost Glory might provide it. Jonjo O’Neill had wretched luck in the saddle around here, but trained the winner three years ago and he saddles this eight-year-old. That age group does not have a sparkling record in the race itself, but this Montjeu gelding has plenty of chasing experience under his belt, stays well and will very much appreciate some decent ground. At 50/1, those looking for an upset could do worse than have an interest.

Former Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer has been a wonderful servant to trainer Tommy Cooper and looks a massive price, but there have to be grave doubts over him seeing this out and Becher Chase winner Join Together looks a more attractive proposition for the trainer-jockey combination that won last year with Neptune Collonges, although you have to forgive him a lack lustre effort at Doncaster last time if getting on.

Cheltenham cross-country specialist Balthazar King is the right sort of age and looks a lively each-way chance and he has won on flat tracks in the past. He stays 3m 7f, so there is plenty to suggest he will get the trip and with the ground to suit he has claims in spite of a career-high mark of 146.

Sunnyhillboy has suffered for his agonising second in this last year and will carry 10lbs more this time. There’s no doubt that he will be trained to the minute, but he has a sizeable task and Roberto Goldback, who bids to give the maestro Nicky Henderson his first Grand National success, is on a reasonable mark but has not really proved he stays beyond three miles.

Much has been made of the modifications to the track in the past couple of decades and this has brought the class horses to the fore and with that in mind we are going to side with the best of the lot here, Imperial Commander. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies seeks a third win in the race after successes with Earth Summit and Bindaree. He never shirks a challenge and to prepare a horse to become the first to win the National off top weight since Red Rum (1974) is some challenge.

However, 12-year-olds have a decent record in the race and Imperial Commander has won three Grade Ones, including the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup. After missing this year’s renewal of the Blue Riband when not quite right, he comes here fresh, much as he was when just outpointed by Cape Tribulation at Cheltenham in January.

He has a very good record after a break, jumps really well, goes on the ground and is used to carrying big weights. Even at that, he gets in here off his lowest handicap mark in four years, just 158 (his zenith was 185) and has been given every chance of success by the assessor. We will take the hint, hope that he steers clear of any trouble-in-running and make him our selection to become the first horse since L’Escargot to win both the Gold Cup and the Grand National.


1 Imperial Commander
2 Teaforthree
3 Chicago Grey
4 Lost Glory

Happy punting!


Leave a Reply