Ballabriggs to roll back the years
Ben Linfoot seeks out the value in the John Smith's Grand National and he's backing Ballabriggs to repeat his 2011 win.
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Despite the modifications, the John Smith's Grand National remains the toughest of tests for horse and jockey and for my main bet experience of the unique fences has to be a prerequisite.
Experience coupled with a touch of class looks to be the winning combination. In recent years better horses have been given a chance - look at Neptune Collonges last season - and when I look at the race as a whole I see all of my fancies in the top half of the handicap.
- 1pt e.w Ballabriggs in 4.15 Aintree at 20/1 (General) - handicapper has given 2011 winner a real chance at the weights
- 1pt e.w Roberto Goldback in 4.15 Aintree at 28/1 (Boylesports) - big horse who should take to the fences and his Kempton run last time a return to form
- 2pts win Cockney Sparrow in 5.10 Aintree at 9/1 (Coral) - easy win last time has been franked and she gets all the allowances here
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander has been given an almighty chance by the handicapper but the setback that ruled him out of the Festival puts me off, while Seabass, Colbert Station and On His Own all have obvious claims.
However, Imperial Commander and Colbert Station are lacking experience of the Aintree fences and are short enough considering that while Seabass could be a real good news story for the race if he carries Katie Walsh across the line in first.
I just don't think he's well-handicapped enough this year. Up 5lb from last season when he was in the form of his life and third, he looks sure to run well again but I'd be surprised if one or two didn't prove too good.
On His Own could be the one. He does look well handicapped after he proved his well-being in a Grade Two hurdle in Ireland and he was going extremely well when unlucky to part with Paul Townend at Bechers a year ago.
If you can get the 12/1 Ladbrokes and William Hill promise to offer about him in the morning I wouldn't blame you, but at mainly single-figure prices he comes with risks. The fact is he's failed to finish three of his last six starts and that sits uneasily ahead of this contest.
Looking at a lot of the horses in the bottom half of the handicap there looks to be plenty of no-hopers who won't stay, are unlikely to jump round or simply aren't good enough.
With that in mind the shortlist comprises of Cappa Bleu, BALLABRIGGS and ROBERTO GOLDBACK and I'm kicking out Evan Williams' charge purely on a value basis.
He was hampered at the seventh last year and it took Paul Moloney time to nurse him back into the race, which he did by claiming fourth. Off a 2lb lower mark this year he must go well after a perfect preparation by the canny Williams.
For me, he's certainly one of the most likely winners but at 12/1 all the fancy prices have gone and I'd rather back a couple each-way at double those odds.
First up Ballabriggs, who was 25/1 with Boylesports when I started writing this and you may get that in the morning. But even 20/1 about the 2011 winner is still perfectly acceptable as he's been given a real chance by the assessor (make sure you place your bet with a bookmaker paying at least five places).
Donald McCain's star was sixth in the race last year off 8lb higher and off 152, just 2lb higher than when he won it, I think he's a great each-way bet as it's going to be hard to keep him out of the frame.
We know how much he loves this place, the ground has come right for him and his third last time at Kelso suggested that he's on the way back. If McCain has got him to peak again - and he thinks he has - we could well see the first horse to regain his National title since Red Rum.
I actually don't think this is the strongest of renewals and the class horses will come to the fore. Ballabriggs is a prominent racer who jumps well and I think he'll be tanking towards the business end when others have cried off despite his advancing years.
At 20s he should be backed each-way as should Nicky Henderson's Roberto Goldback at 28/1 (with Boylesports who are paying five places).
Again, you might get some 33s in the morning, but he's a best of 28/1 at the time of writing partly due to Henderson's stunning four-timer.
The Seven Barrows handler has never won the National and this horse has never run over the Aintree fences, but he's a big horse who looks to have the frame to cope with them physically and he definitely has a touch of class.
He won well at Ascot on his debut for Henderson on good-to-soft ground that seems to suit him well and on similar conditions on Saturday I can see him putting in a big performance.
His effort last time in the Racing Plus Chase was encouraging and he wasn't given a hard time in the closing stages when the race had gone. There are question marks about his stamina but he has at least won over three miles and at the prices he's worth chancing.
Finally, though it will be off the radar for plenty of people I think John Quinn's COCKNEY SPARROW could be the bet of the day in the race after the National at 9/1.
This Cockney Rebel filly easily beat Flaming Arrow under Saturday's jockey Dean Pratt at Doncaster last time, the pair pulling clear of the field.
The runner-up has franked the form since and this looks to be a shrewd bit of placing by Quinn as she gets all the allowances at the bottom of the weights being a four-year-old filly.
A flat track and drying ground look absolutely ideal judging by her Doncaster win and though it's a competitive race, the 9/1 looks well worth snapping up.
Ben Linfoot's Value Bet Aim: The Value Bet is designed to generate long-term profit by searching for overpriced horses in the feature weekend races and at the big Festivals in the UK. Running total: +195.81pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).