Alex Hammond: Watch for Walsh
Alex Hammond previews the action from the John Smith's Grand National meeting at Aintree.
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On His Own looks like being the pick of Ruby Walsh, although at the time of writing he hasn't confirmed his pick. This horse has plenty in his favour but he isn't the sort of price that has you rushing to back him. He has 11 stone to carry which looks pretty attractive, he is trained by the master Willie Mullins and he was making headway when falling at Bechers second time round last year.
He has only had the one run since, a winning effort over hurdles in Grade 2 company and he has lots of class.
The Walsh family are dominating this race with Ruby's father Ted well represented with two leading chances. Seabass gave Katie Walsh a great spin in the race last year to finish 3rd to Neptune Collonges and Sunnyhillboy. He will appreciate the slightly shortened race this time round as he was galloping up and down on the spot in the closing stages last year.
The race will be started 90 yards further from the usual starting spot to try and take some of the electric atmosphere away from the jockeys and horses as part of the new safety measures brought in this year.
Ted Walsh also has Colbert Station in this and he is one of two horses being considered by 17 time champion AP McCoy. This horse isn't a definite stayer which is the con, but on the plus side he is an unexposed progressive horse. It's a tough call for AP though who also has the option of riding last year's close 2nd Sunnyhillboy.
It's a tougher ask off his revised rating though but the course will hold no fears for him. Cappa Bleu was 4th last year and has been prepared with this race in mind once again. His jumping can sometimes let him down though and for that reason I won't be with him. He ran a decent trial at Ascot though last time out and he is well fancied.
The last Irish trained horse to win the National was trained by Gordon Elliott (Silver Birch in 2007) and he has a chance this time round too with Chicago Grey. This horse beat Foildubh back in February and that horse franked that form this week with an impressive win at Fairyhouse. He also has form over these fences, but was unlucky to be brought down in the early stages last year. He handles most ground and looks well weighted this year.
Rebecca Curtis has reported Teaforthree in good form ahead of his first run over the fences. He ran a cracker to be just reeled in by Monbeg Dude in the Welsh National and hasn't run since February in Haydock's National Trial so he should be a fresh horse.
Join Together will be ridden by Daryl Jacob for Paul Nicholls (the same jockey/trainer combination that won last year). This horse pulled up in the Grimthorpe last time out when badly hampered, but was only just touched off in the Becher Chase the time before that.
Imperial Commander has top weight, but he isn't badly handicapped. It's been great to see the Gold Cup winner back on the track this year and he ran a good race to be second in the Argento. He hasn't run since then as he was suffering a lung infection and missed the Gold Cup.
There has been support for 2011 National hero Ballabriggs as he ground is drying up and in his favour. Like Imperial Commander he is now 12 years old, but it's not impossible to win at that age as Amberleigh House proved. Balthazar King has attracted each way support this week. He has been running in cross country races so clearly doesn't mind a different obstacle, but he is yet to run over these fences.
Dessie Hughes' Rare Bob was brought down at the same fence as Chicago Grey last year and could be a decent each way selection. He ran well behind Rich Revival last time out and although that horse pulled up in Monday's Irish National the ground had gone against him and that looks like decent form.
Nicky Henderson has trained Roberto Goldback with this race as his ultimate target and the champion trainer elect is yet to win this race so he will hope for a bold show. Big Fella Thanks is a horse I have plenty of respect for but he has always seemed to struggle to see out this trip. The fact the race is run over 90 yards shorter than normal will help, but if it's enough remains to be seen.
Jonjo O'Neill is always a man you want on your side in staying chases and at a big price (50/1) his Lost Glory could run ok. He has won 5 of his 9 starts over fences and although his stamina isn't guaranteed he comes here in form. The drying ground will definitely be in his favour as like many NZ bred horses he prefers better ground, even though he is by Montjeu.
So, time to make a selection! I would love to see Katie Walsh win this and think Seabass will give his supporters a great run for their money. On His Own (7/1 fav) has obvious claims and has a favourites chance. Rare Bob (20/1) is a horse I'm loath to leave out of my 1-2-3-4 too as he has been chipping away quietly and has a nice weight. Chicago Grey (12/1) is another who can't be ignored. There will be a shake up in the market when AP decides what he is going to ride (I suspect Colbert Station). I'm sticking with Seabass as I've fancied him for some time, but they are my four protagonists for Saturday's marathon.
Away from the National and one of my favourite horses, Overturn, is set to run in the Maghull Novices' Chase over 2 miles and I expect we will see a much improved performance on this decent ground. He got stuck in the holding ground in the Arkle when 4th behind Simonsig and he can leave that run behind him here.
One of the bright sparks for Paul Nicholls at the festival was the run of 40/1 shot Celestial Halo in the World Hurdle and he is entered in the Liverpool Hurdle on Saturday in a bid to go one better. It doesn't look the strongest of contests and as I mentioned before and African Gold would have a good chance if lining up in it. If not this horse should be on your shortlist as the step up in trip seems to have been just the ticket and he will enjoy the ground.