Alex Hammond: Rocky the one
Alex Hammond has her best bets for Aintree this afternoon and likes Rocky Creek in the Crabbie's Grand National.
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So we move on to the feature, the £1m Crabbie's Grand National. Having just read Ed Chamberlin's excellent pinstickers guide, I'm pleased to see we are in agreement.
Like Ed I fancy Rocky Creek, but my reasons are rather less scientific. This is the only horse that can save my chances in the Sky Sports prestigious ten-to-follow competition!
Heart ruling head aside, Rocky Creek has plenty to recommend him. He has only had the ten starts and won four of them, but it was perhaps his placed efforts in the Hennessy and the Argento this season that stand out. He didn't have a smooth preparation before his run at Cheltenham in January and he is a young improving chaser.
Last year's third Teaforthree looked a picture when we saw him on Sky Sports News earlier this week and his trainer Rebecca Curtis seemed quietly confident that she has him in better shape than last year. He was certainly moving well and he has been trained for this race since last year's placed effort. The only thing that puts me off is his price and I'm afraid I won't be backing him at such restrictive odds.
"Last year's third Teaforthree looked a picture when we saw him on Sky Sports News earlier this week and his trainer Rebecca Curtis seemed quietly confident that she has him in better shape than last year."
Alex on Teaforthree
I can't really have Monbeg Dude either because of his awful habit of kicking a fence out of the way. It will take all of Paul Carberry's magic to get him round even given the fact he has had some intensive jumping schooling with Zara Phillips. It's sure to have helped him, but as we've seen with Long Run, all the jumping over poles in the world hasn't stopped him knocking one over and it's a worry over these fences.
Speaking of Long Run, I respect his ability, but he is yet to fire this season and even given Sam Waley-Cohen's great record over the National fences, he will have to show some of his old ability to figure in the finish.
A horse that retains plenty of ability, even at the age of 13, is Tidal Bay who like Rocky Creek is trained by Paul Nicholls. He has top weight here and I can picture Sam Twiston-Davies hunting him round with all the confidence of youth out the back of this 40 strong field before staying on in his customary strong manner.
I like this horse and the race could be tailor made for him. Can he defy the stats and win under top weight as a teenager, it's hard to say, but he should run a big race.
Jonjo O'Neill spoke to Sky Sports News this week too and he couldn't disguise the twinkle in his eye when talking about a couple of his runners this week. One of them was Burton Port, who runs in the famous colours of Trevor Hemmings who has won the race twice before with Hedgehunter and Ballabriggs.
Burton Port ran a much better race at Newbury last time out and he has the assistance of northern based jump jockey Brian Harding. Harding brings plenty of experience to the ride and a cool head and he should be overlooked at your peril.
We still don't know which horse AP McCoy will ride. Murmurings in the week suggest Double Seven over Colbert Station, but until declaration time we won't know. If he does go with Double Seven he will be riding a horse that progressed up the handicap in Ireland last summer winning five on the bounce.
He reappeared after a winter break at Leopardstown and wasn't disgraced in what was a fair prep run for the National. He would have a great chance on decent ground, but I'd overlook him if the rain comes. Colbert Station was ridden by AP in the race last year and he unseated at The Chair. He fell last time out which isn't ideal and if AP does pick him he'll be a false price.
Pineau du Re is trained by Dr Richard Newland who excels with his staying chasers. He has fallen over these big fences before, but that isn't a huge concern as he's generally a good jumper. He has the handy weight of 10st 6lb and Leighton Aspell takes the ride. He ran a cracker in the Pertemps Final over hurdles at Cheltenham last time out not beaten far by Fingal Bay. That has to give him a great chance for his small trainer.
The Rainbow Hunter has had a breathing operation and it clearly worked as he won the Sky Bet Chase which can be a good guide to the National. It would be fantastic for trainer Kim Bailey and connections if he could win and that wind op might just have turned things around for him. He has some experience of these fences as he ran in the National last year, but didn't get beyond The Chair.
Lion Na Bearnai is an interesting runner at a bigger price. He is trained in Ireland by Thomas Gibney who saddled him to win the Irish National in 2012. He could be one to run into a place. Mr Moonshine represents last year's winning connections and he has a chance too for Sue Smith and Ryan Mania. I don't think he's been chucked in at the weights though.
The David Bridgwater-trained Wyck Hill needs a bit of luck to get a run (he's 52nd in the weights), but in the unlikely event he does run he can't be discounted and he's currently 40/1 with Sky Bet. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for declarations to know our fate with this one, but he doesn't lack stamina and he's versatile ground wise.
I'm definitely with Rocky Creek, but this is the National and I've already talked myself in and out of several selections already. I think Teaforthree has a great chance, but he's too short. I also like Burton Port, Pineau du Re and at a bigger price Lion Na Bearnai and to make up my first five (Sky Bet are paying five places).
If you haven't already checked it out I can recommend you listen to the Grand National Pinstickers Podcast with the team from sportinglife.com including Dave Ord, Ed Chamberlin, Michael Shinners and Ben Linfoot. It's not only informative, but very funny too! It's right here.