The Insider: Gone for a Burton
The Insider takes an early look at the Crabbie's Grand National following the publication of the weights and fancies a couple of big-priced contenders.
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Picking the winner of the Crabbie's Grand National is hard enough to do on the day, let alone a couple of months in advance so you'll have to forgive the speculative feel of this column.
However hard you try and resist though, it's far too tempting not to throw a couple of darts at this stage in the hope that your selection ends up half the price on the day.
Phil Smith's 'unique' framing of the race means that top weight and current favourite Tidal Bay has been given a real chance off a mark 7lb lower than he would have had if the race were a normal handicap.
Given the way he ran in the recent Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, it would be foolish to totally dismiss Paul Nicholls' runner out of hand. He seems to be bucking all sorts of trends in the twilight of his career so don't be worried that no 13-year-old has won the race since Sergeant Murphy in 1923.
Don't be put off by the fact that he's failed to complete the National course before either. The fences are an entirely different kettle of fish nowadays and the fact that 17 finished the race last year (and around 25 were still in with a chance turning for home) suggests it's not the test it once was.
However, it would be Tidal Bay's style of running that would put me off. As we saw last year, even though the National is run over a marathon trip, it pays to lie up with the pace. The 2013 runner-up Cappa Bleu was the only horse to come from the clouds last year and the race was effectively over before he began to mount his challenge. Couple this in with any traffic problems he may encounter, then his current price looks a little skinny at this stage. He's unlikely to be much shorter come the day either.
This was by no means planned but it transpires that both our picks for this year's race have won at Aintree before and have also won Grade 2 races earlier in their careers.
Neither has shown much this season but that didn't stop last year's winner Auroras Encore (who had also won at Aintree earlier on in his career) and both are big enough in the market to warrant attention.
First up is the main fancy Burton Port.
A former high-class 'chaser for Nicky Henderson, he has hit the frame in the Gold Cup, the Hennessy, the RSA Chase and the Betfred Bowl during an illustrious career and is now in the care of Jonjo O'Neill who has, quite frankly, done a magnificent job in getting the ten-year-old down to a 'workable' mark of 145 (from a career high of 166).
This currently puts him at 39th on the list carrying a very reasonable 10st 8lb (assuming Tidal Bay runs). Now the weights are out, I wouldn't be surprised to see a very encouraging run in the near future and this could come as soon as this weekend as he is entered in the Grand National trial at Haydock on Saturday - a race which Neptune Collonges finished second in before winning at Aintree.
Of course, he could just be completely gone at the game but if this is a plot in the making, then the 50/1 on offer at this present moment in time is far too tempting to pass over.
Our second selection comes in the shape of Cape Tribulation who has enough going for him to warrant support at a general 50/1.
Like last year's winner, he has won a handicap hurdle at Aintree earlier in his career and is also bred more for the flat rather than the jumping game.
He has won on all sorts of ground and landed both the Rowland Meyrick and Argento Chase on heavy but his Cheltenham Festival victory in the Pertemps Final and his subsequent hurdle victory at Aintree came on goodish ground. His mark when winning that day was 150 and his chase rating is now 149 which suggests he can be competitive.
He is unproved over extreme distances but you get the feeling they are within his range at this stage of his career and the fact he can cope with good ground can only help his cause. He has also never fallen in his 28-race career over obstacles.
If he retains most of his ability, he could easily show up well for a long way.