Matt Brocklebank fancies getting a 66/1 chance on side as he takes an early look at the 2021 Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.
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Dealing with the festive walnuts can be a tricky enough pastime at this time of the year; cracking the Grand National before the ghost of Jacob Marley has paid a visit is an altogether more devilish task.
Let’s hope we’re all transformed into kinder, gentler people as this character-shaping year draws to a fairly sorry close, though a speculative – and responsible – long-term wager also helps warm the wintry soul I find, and there’s nowhere quite like Aintree when it comes to getting a big price about a good horse.
Tiger Roll – favourite for the 2021 Grand National at the time of writing as he seeks a third ‘straight’ win in the race after last year’s abandonment – is a very good horse, but he’s not quite as good these days as the BHA handicappers feel he is.
That’s the overriding impression from the legendary little gelding’s connections anyway, but I’m inclined to agree so we can let that mini-battle rumble on until the weights are published officially in early-February.
Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott has a significant number of other runners potentially being geared towards Aintree on April 10, and they (presumably) include Ravenhill, who provided Jamie Codd with a record third victory in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March.
Easy to back on the day, in age-old fashion Ravenhill arrived on the scene travelling like the wrath of God at the top of the hill, and the rest is history.
Ravenhill, who has often come to life with a bit of sun on his back in the spring and summertime, right through from his point-to-pointing days, has spent this autumn and early-winter paddling away in pretty deep waters, including the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Chase won by another stable companion, The Storyteller, at Down Royal.
He wasn’t the only horse, in an admittedly depleted field, to catch the eye in a three-mile Grade Two event at Navan on November 22, when facing the almost impossible task of trying to concede 2lb to Henry De Bromhead’s Gold Cup hope Minella Indo.
There was a mere flash of intent from Elliott too, when he included Ravenhill among the initial entries for the Becher Chase at Aintree earlier this month.
One suspects all he may have been fishing for was the British handicapper’s latest assessment of his 10-year-old and, though ultimately not declaring the horse to run, duly caught sight of it – a mark of 151. Noted, no doubt.
You could be forgiven for thinking Ravenhill very nearly made his way into the top section of this preview – and you’d be right – but the more I look back over replays of the Cheltenham race, the more I feel LORD DU MESNIL can beat him over an extra half a mile.
Elliott isn’t the only one plotting them up for Aintree after all. And Lord Du Mesnil’s trainer Richard Hobson first mentioned the Grand National for this horse after he’d thrashed Perfect Candidate to complete a hat-trick of handicap chase victories at Haydock in December 2019.
His campaign, like the rest of us, came to an abrupt end at the Festival in the spring, via another fantastic effort when second behind Smooth Stepper back at Haydock in the Grand National Trial, and I’d be amazed if the already pencilled-in target for April 2021 wasn’t immediately rubbed out and replaced with something a little more permanent.
If the novice hurdle comeback outing at Kelso wasn’t enough to confirm that impression, the tilt at the Grand Sefton certainly should have been.
I wouldn’t be mad keen on backing French-breds on their first outing over the Grand National fences (though there have been five French-bred winners down the years, plus notable exceptions in other races here such as Vieux Lion Rouge, who is clearly a stone better over the course than anywhere else), and Hobson seemingly wasn’t willing to take the chance by going straight there in the spring without getting some experience into his big hope.
But the way the horse jumped – bar a shuddering mistake two out – left no doubt as to how well he’d taken to the place. It was a superb sighter in the circumstances, over a trip the thick end of two miles short of the long-term target.
They were going too quickly for him from soon after halfway, but he wasn’t all that far behind when hitting the second-last fence quite hard, which eventually saw him trail home ninth rather than finish a bit closer, potentially a whole lot closer given how well we know he stays on soft ground.
The handicapper has offered some slack on the back of that too, easing Lord Du Mesnil a couple of pounds to a mark of 150, so he’d be 2lb better off with Ravenhill as things stand.
Quite how their seasons pan out from here is up in the air and, having backed him for Aintree, it would be preferable to see Lord Du Mesnil run in something like a staying handicap hurdle rather take up his Christmas engagement in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow.
Either way, at 66/1 I’m happy to take the plunge so far out with a vastly experienced, young horse who shaped so encouragingly on his first try over the unique obstacles.
It’s also worth noting just how significant the National Hunt Chase has been over recent years in producing quality stayers, such as Minella Rocco and Native River, subsequent National third Rathvinden, plus Tiger Roll himself. Last year’s event may not have had quite so much depth to it but the front two did pull 28 lengths clear of the third.
As for underfoot conditions in April, you can rule out a fast-ground National these days and I’d much rather side with a horse who would be perfectly comfortable with some rotten weather in the week leading up to the race, rather than banking on the sun showing up. This is England, after all.
Posted at 0800 GMT on 23/12/20
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