Alex Hammond Blog: Grand National reflections and weekend racing tips

Alex Hammond reflects on Tiger Roll's historic triumph and looks ahead to the weekend
Alex Hammond reflects on Tiger Roll's historic triumph and looks ahead to the weekend

Our columnist reflects on Tiger Roll's famous Randox Health Grand National win - and looks ahead to this weekend's feature action at Ayr and Newbury.

Tiger Roll emulated the great Red Rum in becoming the first horse in 45 years to win back to back Grand Nationals at Aintree on Saturday, how special was the performance?

It’s funny isn’t it? You see a horse like Tiger Roll and try and find something to beat him, purely based on what looked like a restrictive price. That’s exactly what I did in the build up to the race and I feel pretty foolish now. He may ‘only’ have been a 4/1 shot, but goodness me, that looks like good value now.

He barely put a foot wrong and the way he travelled into the closing stages of the world’s greatest steeplechase under a motionless Davy Russell was a joy to behold and made a mockery of his rivals. He may only be small, but someone once told me “you don’t get diamonds the size of bricks” and whilst that’s not quite true, Tiger Roll is a virtual Goliath amongst his peers, albeit in a condensed package.

Tiger Roll and connections celebrate
Tiger Roll and connections celebrate

He has a presence about him and like many great performers, he appears to know he’s special. Maybe that’s anthropomorphism, but he lapped up the attention when he returned to Gordon Elliott’s base in County Meath on Sunday and it was wonderful to see him on such great terms with himself.

There’s no doubt the Grand National is now a very different challenge to the one Red Rum faced in the 70’s, but what Tiger Roll has done is even more special when you consider how versatile he has been. I hope he comes back next year, he’s only nine and all the signs say he is still improving. If he stays sound, he’s in the right hands to have a crack at the three timer. Can you imagine that? Incidentally, he’s 6/1 to get the hat-trick up in 2020; Sky Bet are non-runner, no bet.

Sticking with the National theme, it’s the Scottish National at Ayr on Saturday, where is your money going?

Well, I’m inclined to go on a bit of a retrieval mission and try and recover the funds lost on Vintage Clouds, but it’s not going to be easy for a horse that ran at Aintree last week. The saving grace is that he galloped loose for the majority of it having fallen at the first fence, so shouldn’t have taken too much out of himself. However, the whole occasion can be draining for a horse regardless of that, so I recommend caution if you’re of the same mind.

He’ll definitely be in my team, but an alternative could lie with BIG RIVER, who was fourth in the Ultima at Cheltenham, when Vintage Clouds was second behind Beware The Bear. The latter and Vintage Clouds race off marks 9lbs and 5lbs higher respectively, whereas Big River has the same mark as he had at Cheltenham. He was staying on well that day over three miles and a furlong and trainer Lucinda Russell will be hoping her relatively unexposed chaser will have more to give over four miles Saturday. He seems versatile with regards underfoot conditions, so good ground shouldn’t be an excuse. He’s 8/1 with Sky Bet for the race and Vintage Clouds is a 10/1 shot.

Vintage Clouds (left): Taken to strike at Cheltenham
Vintage Clouds (left): Early faller in Randox Health Grand National

Switching codes, the classic trials kick in now in quick succession, who are you most looking forward to seeing with the big races in mind?

The Greenham at Newbury is a significant trial for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and we can look forward to seeing the reappearance of John Gosden’s superstar juvenile, Too Darn Hot. Don’t get too excited about backing him though, he’s Sky Bet’s 1/4 favourite! Last year’s champion two-year-old won all four of his outings in 2018, which culminated with a very comfortable win in the Dewhurst and the vibes are strong about him progressing well from two to three. Whilst this is a ‘trial’ and his first step up the ladder in his Classic campaign, it will be a huge shock to see him beaten.

So, let’s see if each way value lurks in the field. You may recall if you read last week’s blog that I put up URBAN ICON as a horse to follow this season. Well, it looks like Richard Hannon is going to unleash him in this race and at 16/1 with Sky Bet, this could be where the each way value lies.

Paco Boy and Barney Roy are two horses that won this race for the Hannon team and there is a real buzz around this colt too. I don’t expect him to beat the red-hot favourite, but he will hopefully justify his trainer’s high opinion of him. Too Darn Hot is currently 11/10 with Sky Bet for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, Urban Icon is still a tasty 50/1 (I’ve already backed him each way for the colt’s Classic at Newmarket on May 4th).

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