Take a Chance in the National
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt takes two against the field in the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.
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Historically, previous form over the big fences at Aintree is a key factor in finding the Grand National winner and, therefore, CHANCE DU ROY, Teaforthree and Mr Moonshine could be the ones to concentrate on in Saturday's big race.
Chance Du Roy, the lightest-weighted of the trio, gets a narrow vote after his gutsy defeat of Baby Run and Mr Moonshine (now 8lbs worse off) in the Becher Chase (3m2f) in December.
Philip Hobbs' 10-year-old was pulled up in testing conditions at Haydock next time but shaped much better at Ascot in February when leading approaching two out before finishing fourth behind Restless Harry and Teaforthree.
Earlier in his career, Chance Du Roy confirmed his liking for Aintree when finishing runner-up to Always Waining in the 2012 Topham Trophy and, although outpaced in the same race (won by Triolo D'Alene) 12 months later, he was staying on at the finish in ninth place.
In Tom O'Brien, he has a partner well proven on the course having won two Tophams with the aforementioned Always Waining. It is also encouraging that the selection has often run well in March and April during his career.
Given his fine effort to finish third last year, Teaforthree looks sure to be involved once again.
His second at Ascot confirmed his well-being and he was not knocked about when eighth in last month's Gold Cup. Some have questioned the wisdom of using chasing's classic as a warm-up for the National but connections of Teaforthree are convinced he has come on for the run.
A particularly fine jumper who is made for this course, my only slight concern is that he didn't quite get home behind Aurora's Encore last year having looked the likely winner when leading two out and his current odds are not so attractive for each-way betting.
MR MOONSHINE represents last year's winning connections and Ryan Mania could well enjoy another sensational ride.
Progressive this season, Sue Smith's gelding scored at Musselburgh and Warwick after finishing third to Chance Du Roy in the Becher and was beaten by another improving type when second to Maggio in a listed chase at Kelso last time.
Although pulled up behind stable-companion Auroras Encore 12 months ago, Mr Moonshine's form this season has been much better and he is another with strong claims of being involved in the finish.
Of course, interest in this year's race has been heightened by the inclusion of the high-class chasers Tidal Bay and Long Run.
At the age of 13, Tidal Bay seems as good as ever and ran out of his boots under top weight when third to Mountainous in the Welsh National before chasing home Last Instalment in the Lexus Chase at the highest level.
A non-finisher behind Ballabriggs in 2011, it remains to be seen if the old boy will really relish this challenge but, if he does, then he will finish stronger than many.
As a former Gold Cup winner, Long Run naturally takes the eye in this handicap and a rating of 160 is way below his best. But there is no doubt that he has declined and, after some disappointing efforts (admittedly in top races) earlier this season, he didn't need to run to his current mark when defeating Knockara Beau at Kelso last time.
A back-to-form Long Run would surely be good enough to win but, on recent evidence, his best days do seem to be behind him and, even though today's easier Grand National fences will probably suit this sometimes clumsy jumper, I still have doubts whether he can jump round without serious error. On the other hand, in Sam Waley-Cohen, he has a rider with an excellent Aintree record which he enhanced when taking the Foxhunters on Thursday aboard Warne.
On their running in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, there shouldn't be too much between Triolo D'Alene (last year's Topham Trophy winner here) and Rocky Creek but both will need to prove their stamina for four-and-a-half miles.
Triolo D'Alene may not have had the ideal preparation when well beaten in last month's Gold Cup while Rocky Creek was forced to miss the Festival following an attack of ringworm. The last-named has one big thing in his favour here as he is a superb jumper but he didn't look to quite get home behind The Giant Bolster in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham (albeit in testing conditions) in January and, for me, there is a small question mark over his stamina.
If Rocky Creek stays, he should go very close to winning.
Ground conditions will be important to Cheltenham specialist Balthazar King (well beaten here last year) and Welsh National hero Mountainous. The last named wants really soft going while the former won't run if the clerk of the course's description is any worse than good to soft.
Given their ground, they too are possibles for National glory while a clean round of jumping should also see Monbeg Dude in the mix.
This solid stayer, who beat Teaforthree in last season's Welsh National, produced a career-best effort when winning a Cheltenham in December only to perform tamely at Doncaster last time.
Monbeg Dude, who has been schooled by Zara Phillips, tends to get behind in his races so will need luck in running - but, if in contention crossing the Melling Road under Paul Carberry, he could be hard to stop.