Chicago the value in Irish team
There probably won't be 14 Irish-trained winners at Aintree. We probably won't go into the last race with just one shot, 13-13, thinking that we might go through on the away-goals rule, before watching Alderwood and AP McCoy hit the back of the net. Even so, we might do all right.
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It is remarkable to think that almost a quarter of a century passed under the bridge from L'Escargot to Bobbyjo without an Irish-trained Grand National winner, and even more remarkable to think that Irish-trained horses then won six of the nine renewals that ran during the Celtic Tiger years between Bobbyjo in 1999 and Silver Birch in 2007. There hasn't been an Irish winner of the National since Silver Birch but, with four Irish horses among the top five in the betting lists, that could all change on Saturday.
On His Own is the right favourite for the race. The Willie Mullins-trained gelding ran a remarkable race in last year's National. Well back in the field on the first circuit, he had manoeuvred himself into the front rank by the time they approached Becher's Brook on the final circuit before a loose horse impeded him a little, caused him to check his stride, clip the top of the fence and land too steeply.
On His Own was only eight years old last year, so he was up against the stats. He should be much better equipped for the rigours of the National this year as a nine-year-old. A Thyestes Chase winner - like Mullins' previous National winner Hedgehunter - he gets to compete off last year's mark of 148, and he has been trained all season with the National in mind, proving his wellbeing by running out an impressive winner of a Grade Two hurdle at Navan in February. He will have the assistance of Ruby Walsh, and he is a massive player.
The Ted Walsh-trained duo, Colbert Station and Seabass, are both big players, but Chicago Grey may represent better value at a slightly bigger price. Gordon Elliott's horse had jumped the first four fences well in last year's renewal before he was unluckily brought down at the fifth.
Allotted a mark of 141 by the British handicapper when the weights were published, he then went and beat impressive recent Norman's Grove Chase winner Foildubh in a Grade Two chase at Navan on the same day that On His Own won his Grade Two hurdle. He is now rated 149 in Ireland, yet he obviously gets to compete off his original mark of 141 on Saturday, which is also 9lb lower than the mark off which he competed last year. He is probably the best-handicapped horse in the race.
He seemed to take to the big fences well last year, as a 10-year-old he is the right age for the race, a wind operation since last year has probably helped, he will have a lovely racing weight, he handles good ground well and being a National Hunt Chase winner you know that he stays well. With normal luck in-running he should run a big race.
Rare Bob is also interesting at an even bigger price. Dessie Hughes' horse was also brought down in the mêlée that claimed Chicago Grey last year. He didn't run over fences this year until after the Grand National weights were published, but he ran a nice race to finish fourth in the Bobbyjo Chase in February, just two lengths behind Seabass, and he kept on well to finish third in the Leinster National at Naas three weeks ago on his most recent run. That should have put him spot-on for Saturday.
Unlucky to unseat his rider when in with a big chance of winning the John Smith's Handicap Chase at the 2011 Grand National meeting, he jumped around the Grand National course in the 2011 Becher Chase when the ground was far too soft for him. The drying ground is in his favour, his trainer's horses have been in cracking form all season, his rider Bryan Cooper could hardly be higher in confidence, and his Grand National mark of 140 is 6lb lower than his current chase mark in Ireland.
Solwhit himself is obviously a big player in the Liverpool Hurdle on Saturday. He picked up impressively off a sedate early pace to win the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham, seeing out the trip well. Winner of the Aintree Hurdle in 2009, he obviously goes well at the track and he handles good ground well.
Also on Saturday, Alderwood steps up in class to take his chance in the Grade One John Smith's Maghull Chase. The Grand Annual hero stepped up in class over hurdles after Cheltenham last season to win a Grade Two race at Fairyhouse and a Grade One contest at Punchestown after landing the County Hurdle, and there is every reason to believe that he could also be a Grade One horse over fences.
For more of Donn's thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.