Our racing expert Ben Linfoot previews the biggest day of the jumps season as the Randox Health Grand National takes centre stage on a brilliant day at Aintree.
Recommended Bets: Grand National Day
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Tiger Roll bids to carve his name into Grand National folklore at Aintree on Saturday by becoming the first back-to-back winner of the race since the legendary Red Rum in 1974.
He could do it. He’s in the form of his life, the blinkers look to have squeezed even more improvement out of him, the rain we’ve had is no bother and he’s trained by a genius in Gordon Elliott.
It’s difficult to pick holes in his chance, but it’s not too difficult to pick holes in his price. A best of 9/2 is very short in a race like the National, especially under a big weight and a 9lb higher mark than when he won it last year.
The good thing is that his presence at the top of the betting means we’re getting some fancy prices about some horses with very solid claims.
Take Rathvinden for example. He’s trained by Willie Mullins, has proven stamina at a high level after winning the four miler at Cheltenham last season, is in the form of his life judging by his Bobbyjo win and is officially 8lb well in.
Without Tiger Roll he could be your 6/1 favourite for the National, but he’s 10/1. He’ll be popular, but I’m a bit concerned that he’s only had the one run in the last year and that it might just catch him out.
With that in mind I’m drawn to the claims of Mullins’ second string, PLEASANT COMPANY, who could well go one place better than last year at 20/1 (General).
He jumped superbly that day, a small mistake at the second last his only semblance of an error but it came at a crucial time and could’ve been the difference between victory and defeat.
There was an element of Tiger Roll idling late on, but Pleasant Company finished well to get within a head at the line and he’s 2lb better off at the weights this year yet is five times the price.
The main reason for that is current form. While Tiger Roll looks to be flourishing, Pleasant Company has laboured his way through two races, the first a handicap hurdle in December and then the Thyestes Chase at Gowran.
You couldn’t take much confidence from those efforts, but there’s little doubt he’s been trained with one race in mind and though you can say that about most of these, they don’t have a run like last year’s second in the bag.
The hood off angle looks vital, too. He ran in a hood when pulled up in last year’s Thyestes Chase but ran without one when second in the National and Mullins has tried the same trick this year.
With the ground now in his favour and Paul Townend on board, the Gold Cup-winning jockey having a one from two record on him, everything is in place for a big run and I want him on side at 20s.
At 11-years-old he has plenty of experience in the locker, but at the other end of the age spectrum RAMSES DE TEILLEE (25/1 William Hill, BetVictor) is an up-and-coming young stayer and I also can’t resist a wager on him.
He’s bidding to become the first seven-year-old to win the race since Bogskar in 1940, but eight-year-olds have won three of the last four runnings and the modern National is nowhere near as demanding for a younger horse.
It’s not a reason to put a line through him and he’s got plenty in his favour.
His trainer, David Pipe, knows what it takes to win the National after saddling Comply Or Die to victory in 2008, while Ramses De Teillee’s last two efforts have been the best of his career.
He loves Chepstow and stayed on well to be second in the soft-ground Welsh National in December, while he improved on that run in the Haydock Grand National Trial last time.
David Noonan made his challenge early at Haydock and paid for it in the closing stages when collared by Robinsfirth, but the run proved he can act on a flat track away from Chepstow and it also means he’s 5lb well-in on Saturday.
That race has also been a good pointer to the National in recent years, with both Mon Mome and Neptune Collonges coming out of it to win the big one.
He acts well on testing ground, so it is with hope he’ll handle what could be sticky conditions and he certainly looks to have the required tools after improving significantly since wind surgery.
In a race with few unexposed horses with potential, he stands out as one that has more up his sleeve.
If there’s one race of the year to have three bets in it’s the National and I can’t let last year’s headline selection REGAL ENCORE go unbacked at 66/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6).
He was half the price last year but was ruled out on the morning of the race due to an abnormal blood sample but he remains a horse with an each-way chance.
His first go at the National was promising in 2017 when he hunted round for eighth and that experience will stand him in good stead on Saturday.
The rain won’t bother him and on his best form he’s fairly handicapped off 152, while his sole chase start this season at Ascot in February was really encouraging, as he jumped and travelled well before getting tired late on.
Still, it was a good third after he lost a shoe and it should’ve put him spot on for this.
The booking of Mark Walsh is a good one, as he’s on a real high after a couple of Cheltenham wins, including the Champion Hurdle, and it suggests to me he’s the JP McManus second string after Anibale Fly.
Of the rest, the lightly weighted Joe Farrell and Vintage Clouds could have a big say, but three bets are enough even in a race of this nature. Good luck with wherever your pin lands and enjoy the race!
VALUE BET GRAND NATIONAL VERDICT
- Pleasant Company
- Ramses De Teillee
- Regal Encore
- Joe Farrell
Rest of Aintree Saturday
The undercard on National day is terrific with loads of other races to have a go at.
Firstly, the opening Gaskells Handicap Hurdle market is dominated by Sire Du Berlais following his remarkable win at Cheltenham, for which he’s up 8lb.
It might not be enough to stop him, but at 9/2 I’m happy to take him on and at 28/1 (BetVictor, Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5) it’s TOMMY RAPPER that appeals most at the prices.
Dan Skelton’s horse is back over hurdles following an aborted chasing campaign, but his run over timber at Chepstow last time was encouraging and he looks on a nice mark now.
Rated 136, he’s won a three mile handicap hurdle in Haydock heavy off 135 and that’s evidence he likes a flat, left-handed track in testing conditions.
Last time he travelled well before tiring late on, but it was a good hurdling return after a couple of unsuccessful goes over fences and he should now be cherry ripe for this assignment.
In the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle Apple’s Jade has to prove she’s over whatever was responsible for her below-par run at Cheltenham and she looks vulnerable after a long season.
Sam Spinner ran very well in the Stayers’ Hurdle but isn’t certain to back that up and after those two the rest need to step up on previous form.
The one that appeals to do so is WILLIAM HENRY at 14/1 (BetVictor, Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power), for Nicky Henderson following his last–gasp Coral Cup success at Cheltenham.
That was a career-best effort after a wind operation and the way he won it suggested he’ll thrive over three furlongs further at Aintree.
He’s fine on flat tracks as evidenced by his Lanzarote win and the sticky ground shouldn’t be any bother to him.
Lightly-raced for a nine-year-old, he’s just the type of horse that graduates to Grade One level at Aintree and looks in a similar mould to Whisper, who won this race a couple of times for the same owner-trainer combination of Dai Walters and Henderson.
He also won this race on the back of Coral Cup success and with those at the top of the betting looking vulnerable it would be no surprise to see history repeating itself.
Finally, ON TOUR looks a big price at 22/1 (Ladbrokes 1/4 1,2,3,4, Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5) in the Betway Handicap Chase (despite being nibbled at on Friday afternoon) considering his Aintree record.
He’s been second in a handicap chase at the track off 137, won the same race a year later by three lengths off 135 and was then second in this race last year off 137.
This year he gets to race off 130 after dropping 10lb in four runs this season, but he’s been running at tracks or on ground that don’t really suit and he didn’t run a bad race when third at Sandown in the veterans’ final two starts ago.
Pulled up on good ground (that was perhaps a bit faster than that) in the Sky Bet Chase last time, he’s easily forgiven that run and is worth backing now he’s dropped to a very handy mark at his favourite track.
Ben Linfoot's Value Bet aim: The Value Bet is designed to generate long-term profit by searching for overpriced horses in the feature weekend races and at the big Festivals in the UK and Ireland. Running total: +332.69pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).
Posted at 1700 BST on 05/04/19.
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