Ben Linfoot provides an in-depth horse-by-horse guide to the 2021 Randox Grand National at Aintree, complete with star ratings ahead of the April 10 spectacular.
This guide was updated at the final declarations stage on Thursday April 8 at 11am
Daryl Jacob riding a Grade One-winning grey in the Grand National, you say? Nine years on from Neptune Collonges’ last-gasp lunge to deny Sunnyhillboy history could well repeat itself for Jacob if Bristol takes to the Aintree spruce like Neptune did back in 2012. We know he jumps well and we know he stays well – he does over the extended 3m1f in Haydock heavy anyway – and while this is a very different test he is the class horse in the race. Bristol De Mai goes well fresh, too – and he’s been kept fresh for this – while he benefits from the unique National weights compression by way of 2lb.
Chris’s Dream had a superb 2019-20 season, with two big wins in the Troytown and Red Mills Chase ensuring he went off at 20/1 for Al Boum Photo’s second Gold Cup, where he finished 10th. His 2020-21 campaign didn’t start off too badly either, a neck defeat to The Storyteller at Down Royal promising plenty for the months ahead. He hasn’t kicked on from that, though, getting lost in the fog behind Min in the John Durkan before being pulled up as Allaho stormed to the Ryanair. He made early mistakes there and that would be a serious worry in this race.
Let’s start on a major positive for Yala Enki; he stays forever. He loves nothing more than three and a half miles in heavy ground, he has been placed in three consecutive Welsh Grand Nationals and it’s difficult to envisage a scenario where he cries off because he has run out of stamina. The negatives do cancel all that out and some, however. Officially 1lb wrong, he probably could’ve done with softer conditions and the only time he has tackled the National fences he fell at the first in the Becher.
Has always looked like he should be an ideal type for the National but evidence over the Aintree fences suggests otherwise. A Grade One winner at this meeting by virtue of his win in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle back in 2016, his nose second in the Scottish Grand National to Joe Farrell two years later proved that a stamina test is exactly what he wants. Talked of in Grand National terms ever since, his record over the National course subsequently is F-F-11th and he’s looked regressive this season, which is probably why he was not sold at the Goffs online sale last month.
His chance for National glory may have been and gone. Sent off 10/1 in 2017, Brian Ellison’s horse was 10lb well in after bolting up in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster the previous month, but he never recovered after being badly hampered at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit and was pulled up before Valentine’s. Fourth in the 2019 Becher after that, he has not been at his best this season although his fourth in the bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso last time was better. Beaten 12-and-a-half lengths by Cloth Cap off level weights that day, he now has to give him 10lb.
Another also-ran from Cloth Cap’s Premier Chase romp. Lake View Lad was last of five at Kelso, beaten 23 lengths by the National favourite when giving him 2lb – and he’s now 7lb worse off. He is a tough stayer on his best days – he has been placed in a Cheltenham Festival handicap off just a 2lb lower mark – while he has an Aintree win on his dance card this season after beating Santini, Native River and Frodon in the Many Clouds Chase on the Mildmay Course in December. Fences were missing that day, which might’ve helped as errors have been creeping into his recent efforts, and he was pulled up when 14/1 for Tiger Roll’s second National two years ago.
Has been considered the perfect type for Aintree by Willie Mullins ever since he won the Irish Grand National two years ago. He dominated his Fairyhouse field that day under Ruby Walsh when a novice, travelling well within himself throughout off a rating of 144, fully deserving his 12lb hike in the weights afterwards. He runs off 156 in the National, but rather than his progress stunting he’s been well hidden from the handicapper by competing solely over hurdles since New Year’s Eve 2019 – until after the National weights were published. Then he was unleashed in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse where he was an encouraging second to Acapella Bourgeois. The one little nag is that he jumped to his right when under pressure that day and has only ever run at right-handed tracks in Ireland.
Raced keenly and made mistakes at The Chair and at the last when a very game runner-up to Tiger Roll in the 2019 National at odds of 66/1. That proved she had the tools for a stamina test but she has been largely kept to trips of around three miles subsequently and even dropped back to 2m4f for the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham where she was outpaced. She’s 5lb higher in the weights now than when she was second two years ago, but with no Tiger Roll in the field she arguably brings the best National form to the table. She will need the Aintree factor to kick in, though, as she needs to improve on recent efforts to figure here.
If we’re talking up Burrows Saint as a National contender we have to acknowledge the claims of stablemate Acapella Bourgeois, too. After all, Acapella Bourgeois was third to Burrows Saint in the Irish National – beaten seven-and-a-quarter lengths when giving him 6lb – and then last time in the Bobbyjo he kept on really well when beating the same horse by four and three quarter lengths when giving him 6lb. It’s hard to understand the price discrepancy between the two considering those two pieces of form in isolation, but Acapella Bourgeois is the more exposed and is 0/7 in handicaps.
There’s one piece of form that marks Talkischeap out as a Grand National contender – his 10-length demolition of the bet365 Gold Cup field at Sandown in the April of 2019. The problem is, he’s looked a shadow of his former self since then, and if he was been saved for a return to fences until after the National weights were released it backfired as he’s 5lb wrong now after another no-show at Kempton. It’s very hard to make a case for him.
Another one who is wrong at the weights here with Tout Est Permis carrying 4lb more than he would do in a conventional handicap. He’s another one from the Bobbyjo – and another one who jumped to the right – and he has it all to do to reverse that form with the Willie Mullins-trained pair. Noel Meade tried to get a confidence booster into him at Down Royal subsequently, where he was sent off even-money for a conditions chase, but he fell at the 12th with blood found in his nostrils afterwards.
Famous for being placed in successive Cheltenham Gold Cups, Anibale Fly has also run well in two Grand Nationals on the back of his excellent efforts at the Festival. In 2018 he was fourth behind Tiger Roll off a mark of 159 and a year later he was fifth behind the same horse off 164. Highly consistent up to that point, he has gone off the rails since and has been beaten by a combined margin of 249-and-three-quarter lengths on his last five starts. He looks well treated off 155 on his previous performances in the National, but massively up against it on his recent efforts.
Has won some big handicaps in his time, notably the big handicap chase at Kempton in the February of 2020 and the Silver Cup handicap chase at Ascot in the December of the same year. Those victories came off marks of 147 and 150, so you wouldn’t dismiss him from calculations on purely handicapping terms and he shaped quite nicely in third at 33/1 on his first start since wind surgery when trying to retain his crown at Kempton. The negatives are he’s prone to the odd mistake – he unseated Jonjo O’Neill Jr in the Ladbrokes Trophy – and he has to prove he stays, as well.
Very lightly-raced in the last two years running just three times since being pulled up in Burrows Saint’s Irish National. However, those three runs mark him out as a serious Grand National player, as he’s been second in two Becher Chases and in-between those he bolted up by 10 lengths in the 3m5f Warwick Classic Chase. Stamina is this horse’s game and he clearly goes well over the National fences, so the two main questions are; has the handicapper got him now, and does he need soft ground? I’m leaning towards answering with ‘yes’ on both counts.
Has been well backed into second-favouritism for Ted Walsh who won the Grand National with son Ruby 21 years ago thanks to Papillon. Fell at the eighth fence in Burrows Saint’s Irish National so he does have his stamina to prove although he looked a strong stayer when landing the 3m2f Kim Muir at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. Hadn’t shown much this season until bursting into life over two miles at Navan after the weights were released, a timely return to form that sees him 3lb well in here.
As a progressive young steeplechaser this horse won the Galway Plate and then the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – but since that latter success he’s completely lost his way. The losing run stands at 13 now, he unseated Rachael Blackmore in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham last time and his previous two defeats were by 85 and 50 lengths. He’s got everything to prove – form, stamina, suitability for the test – so some Henry de Bromhead magic is very much required.
It’s six years since Alpha Des Obeaux fell in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting when going well in the renewal won by Thistlecrack. It’s three years since he fell in the Grand National when he and Rachael Blackmore failed to negotiate The Chair. Falling both times he has been to this meeting is not a great start, but he did at least complete the Becher Chase course when third in the 2019 renewal and he ran okay in fourth behind Tiger Roll in the Cross Country at Cheltenham last time. He handles better ground well and might need a real stamina test these days, so he’s not the hopeless outsider his odds suggest he is - even though plenty of his rivals have far more compelling claims.
Nicky Henderson has yet to win the Grand National and this year he relies on OK Corral (unless Valtor gets in) who has been seen just once on a racetrack in the last 441 days. That was in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival where he was pulled up after finishing lame, so it’s hard to envisage the master of Seven Barrows breaking his duck this year. He was positive about his chances in a recent Zoom press conference following a schooling session, though, and he is only 5lb higher than when he won the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. Leading Irish amateur Derek O’Connor takes the ride.
Takingrisks looks better than ever at the age of 12 and goes into the Grand National as one of only six last-time out winners in the race. Not only that, but his victory from Aye Right in the Sky Bet Chase, from a perch of 146 on his second start since wind surgery, was a career-best victory, while his credentials for a stamina test on spring ground are unquestioned following on from his Scottish National win (with Cloth Cap four lengths behind in third) at Ayr in 2019. A tremendously consistent horse, who has been in the top three in half of his 32 career starts, he has an each-way chance at a big price if taking to the fences.
By Yeats, who had four winners at the Cheltenham Festival thanks to Flooring Porter, Chantry House, Mount Ida and Heaven Help Us. Shattered Love did her best to make it five for the four-time Ascot Gold Cup-winning stallion, but had to settle for third in the end behind Colreevy and Elimay in the inaugural Mares’ Chase, form that has already been boosted by the runner-up. That suggests she is currently operating at near as dammit her very best level, but she was pulled up in the 2019 Irish National and does have her stamina – and aptitude for big-field races – to prove.
It’s only two years since Jett beat The Storyteller by four-and-three-quarter lengths in the Grade 2 Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse and later that same year he beat Alpha Des Obeaux in a Grade 3 at Punchestown. That’s the sort of form that persuaded Robert Waley-Cohen to purchase him for his latest Grand National project, but since he switched owners Jett has failed to fire. In six goes in his new colours his best performance has been a 45-length seventh to The Storyteller, which is a clear indication of his rapid regression over the last few years. He’s impossible to fancy on recent form.
Here’s a really strong stayer. Lord Du Mesnil loves nothing more than three and a half miles in Haydock heavy and he was second to 2019 National third Ravenhill in that year’s 3m6f National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, too. On top of this he had a sighter of the Aintree fences in the Grand Sefton in December over an inadequate 2m5f and he’s 5lb well in on the back of his gutsy win in the trial at Haydock last time out. Fairly priced at 33/1 with all that in mind, the one question mark with him is the ground, as all of his relevant form has come on soft or worse.
There has been a lot of chat about Potters Corner in the build-up to the Grand National following a controversial micro-share initiative from his new part owners RacehorseClub, while the horse’s pixelated version won last year’s Virtual National. Unfortunately, the real Potters Corner has not been in such good form this season, even if he has been keeping his powder dry in handicap hurdles, and he missed his Cheltenham engagement in the Cross Country due to a late setback. If he’s back in the sort of form that saw him win the Welsh Grand National in 2019 he has a good chance off a 4lb higher mark. He’s a former Midlands National winner, too, and there are no doubts regarding his stamina.
He’s not done anything of note as yet to shake off the ‘half-brother to Silviniaco Conti’ moniker. That would change with a National victory, but he’s failed to add to his stable debut success at Tramore in eight subsequent starts for Willie Mullins and hasn’t looked particularly well handicapped off a mark in the high 140s this campaign. His best two runs have come in the Thyestes Chase at right-handed Gowran, but he’s yet to race beyond 3m1f and will have to prove himself on better ground, as well.
Attracted money when the weights came out thanks to positive comments from Gordon Elliott but support for him seems to have cooled in recent weeks. That’s probably on the back of a fairly uninspiring ninth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but that was his first run back from wind surgery following a 79-day break so he could well come on for that run. He was sent off at 13/2 at Cheltenham with last year’s Kim Muir win in the minds of punters and that victory marked him out as a staying chaser with a future. Has yet to complete beyond 3m2f and also has to prove himself at this level on better ground.
This fellow looks a major contender. Second seven times in his career, including at three Cheltenham Festivals, the perennial bridesmaid could finally become centre of attention now he’s exposed to a serious test of stamina in handicap company. He was a half-length runner-up in a gruelling National Hunt Chase when it was still almost four miles at Cheltenham in 2019 and the pleasing thing for Paul Nolan was how he came out of that race. Indeed, he beat A Plus Tard in Grade One company when second again at Punchestown the following month. He gave 4lb to the aforementioned Milan Native when beaten a short head by him on his seasonal reappearance at Galway, a run that might’ve impacted his rare below-par run at Cheltenham in November. Freshened up since – and he goes well fresh – this strong stayer looks a big player off a light weight.
Has completed around the Grand National fences all nine times he’s lined up against them, with his Becher Chase form figures reading 1-7-2-9-1 against a National record of 7-6-9-15th. That suggests he is likely to complete without winning, especially considering his rating of 148 following his 24-length Becher win off 8lb lower back in December. His previous National runs have come off marks of 146, 149, 150 and 146, so it is hard to see him landing the each-way money – unless your bookmaker is offering generous extra place terms.
The key player in this year’s race, there is no doubt that Cloth Cap deserves to be a strong favourite. His run to the National has been timed to perfection by Jonjo O’Neill, with the nine-year-old blossoming this season due to a catalyst combination of cheekpieces and aggressive tactics. They didn’t see which way he went in an emphatic Ladbrokes Trophy jaunt and, kept for the spring after that, he then saw off a posse of horses rated in the high 150s in the Premier Chase at Kelso, comfortably, after the National weights were released. Officially a stone well in on the back of that, his races this season have been over 3m2f and just shy of three miles, but a Scottish National third from 2019 tempers any stamina queries. With the ground coming in his favour, too, it is difficult to pick holes in his chance, but, he is very short, he’s never been to Aintree and this race asks different questions of him – including - can he sustain another aggressive run from the front over this trip?
A Willie Mullins-trained mare who has won some big pots for Ireland’s champion trainer, notably the Munster National at Limerick and the Kerry National at Listowel. Those wins came off marks of 126 and 142, her latter victory by a nose, and she’s struggled to hit any sort of form post-Listowel, gradually regressing to the stage where she was pulled up before the eighth in the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham. That trip will have been too short for her, but she’s hard to fancy off 148 in a race as competitive as this on her recent form, for all that she’s done well in big-field handicaps in the past.
The first thing to say about Katy Price’s gelding is that he absolutely loves the Mildmay track at Aintree. His record over the park fences in Liverpool is 1-2-1-1 and that latest victory came in October over 3m1f where he won by 14 lengths off a rating of 140. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to transfer that form to the National course, with a 41-length 10th in the 2019 Becher Chase preceding an unseating of jockey Ben Poste after the seventh in the 2020 renewal. He looks held by the handicapper following a hefty rise for his October win, too, while he also has his stamina to prove.
Alan King’s Canelo has improved this season for the application of cheekpieces and has won twice, bolting up here on the Mildmay course in the first-time sheepskin in November before beating Snow Leopardess in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day off a 12lb higher mark. They are the hallmarks of a progressive steeplechaser, but his improvement has somewhat plateaued in two runs at Doncaster this year, with his Sky Bet Chase fourth followed up by a third in the Grimthorpe. He traded at a low of 1.73 in-running on Betfair in that latest run, but was outbattled in the run for the line and that does raise questions as to whether he’s got the mettle for a race like this.
Completes the Bobbyjo five after finishing third in that race behind Acapella Bourgeois and Burrows Saint, his staying-on effort after being ridden cold suggesting he might well have what it takes for this sort of stamina test. That’s open to interpretation as all of his victories have come over much shorter distances, his career-best win coming at Limerick over Christmas over the extended 2m3f in heavy ground. Indeed, he handles heavy ground so well that there has to be a doubt about him on more spring-like conditions, although he is unproven on that score in recent times, too. A bit of an unknown quantity, all in all.
Not an easy horse for Paul Nicholls to train, Give Me A Copper has had his problems and has had to make a habit of racing on the back of long breaks. That has impacted the amount of times he has been seen, his 13-race career, including nine steeplechases, a relatively tiny amount of outings for an 11-year-old. There have been some high points in his rare forays to the track, notably the 2019 Badger Beers at Wincanton where he stayed on well to beat Soupy Soups by a neck on good to soft ground. He’s only 5lb higher in the National because he’s lesser-spotted, but this would be a training performance to rank alongside the greatest in the race’s history if Nicholls were to saddle him home in first.
Would’ve won at the Cheltenham Festival but for being absolutely 'Shuntered' in the Paddy Power Plate, but he proved himself a progressive young chaser there, nonetheless, and he’s 6lb well in off a mark of 146 in the National (on BHA ratings). Pulled hard on his only attempt at three miles, so big stamina query with him at this stage of his career and the Topham on Friday might've been a better option.
After taking the Cheltenham Festival by storm Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore will set their sights on the Grand National with Minella Times, who looks a highly-progressive chaser. He too has been rarely tried at three miles, but on both occasions he has attempted the trip he has shaped like he’ll get a good bit further and his good keeping-on second at Leopardstown on December 27, where he beat Farclas, Milan Native and Class Conti, is encouraging regarding the stamina question mark. Second again last time over the extended 2m5f at the Dublin Racing Festival, where he once more finished ahead of Farclas, Minella Times is improving fast as an official rating hike of 15lb in three runs suggests. He might not have stopped improving yet, though, and he jumps well and should like the ground, too, so he’s an interesting lurker towards the bottom of the weights.
Sub Lieutenant is best known from his Gigginstown days where he mixed it with the best in top company. Second in a Ryanair Chase to Un De Sceaux and runner-up to Fox Norton in the Melling Chase in 2017, he was a 162-rated chaser at his zenith and was second in the 2019 Topham off a mark of 155 on his first dip back into handicap company since the 2018 Galway Plate. Sold at the Goffs horses-in-training sale last September, he’s with Georgie Howell now, one of just half a dozen horses at the Tenbury Wells handler’s base, and he’ll be ridden by her daughter, Tabitha Worsley, who won the Aintree Foxhunters’ over the National fences aboard Top Wood in 2019 – just 17 months after breaking her back. Sub Lieutenant has run okay in fourth in two starts for his new stable at Ascot and is rated 146 for Aintree, which is 4lb wrong, but there would be no greater story in this year’s National than this one.
Hogan’s Height might just be one of those horses that is a different beast over the National fences. Certainly, his 16-length victory in the 2019 Grand Sefton over the Aintree spruce was a career-best performance by a country mile and he hasn’t got anywhere near that level of form on any start before or since. It was notable how strongly he travelled in his Grand Sefton win and he jumped the fences with aplomb, but he is 12lb higher now and he, too, is 4lb wrong, after being beaten 128 lengths by Tiger Roll in the Cross Country. He’s another with the Topham as an option.
A high-class steeplechaser in his pomp, Double Shuffle was rated 166 following his second to Might Bite in the 2017 King George VI Chase at Kempton. He went on a losing run of 18 between 2016 and the January of this year, the wins that started and ended those sequences being in three-mile handicap chases at Kempton off marks of 143 and 140. That’s about his level these days and he wouldn’t be handicapped out of things off his current rating of 145 at Kempton, but he’s had two goes over the National fences, resulting in being pulled up and a 45-length defeat, so it’s hard to make a case for him here.
It’s been a long time between drinks for Ami Desbois, as well. Graeme McPherson’s 11-year-old is on a losing run of 15, but six of those races have seen him finish second and he’s far from ungenuine. Indeed, on his penultimate start, his usually dependable jumping – a trait that should see him take to the Aintree fences well – let him down at the last and were it not for that he may well have held on to beat Double Shuffle at Kempton. A 4lb rise after that has made things more difficult for him, but at least it has helped him get in the National. He could give Kielan Woods a great spin at big odds.
Once upon time in a different universe Blaklion was 8/1 favourite for the Grand National. It was 2017 when he was a thriving eight-year-old and he traded at 1.52 in-running when hitting the lead going strongly with three to go. He was reeled in, finished fourth, won the same year’s Becher Chase in a canter at 7/4 (7/4!) and that’s where his love affair with the National fences ends. He was brought down at the first fence in the 2018 National, was beaten out of sight in the same year’s Becher and since then he’s had almost as many trainers as he’s had runs. Rapidly falling down the weights, he doesn’t look the force of old and he’s 7lb wrong sneaking in at number 40.
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