The Grand National is the race the country stands still for. Hordes of people convert into self-acclaimed betting gurus and the timeless classic of picking a horse based on the name comes into play.
It is the hardest race in racing in terms of picking a winner and 2015 is no different with some looking to replicate Cheltenham Festival and a certain jockey bidding a fond farewell from the saddle.
AP McCoy is looking to bow out of racing in incredible style by claiming a second Grand National. The 19-time champion jockey has said on record that it is ‘very likely’ that he will ride Shutthefrontdoor for Jonjo O’Neill, who saddled Don’t Push It for the Northern Irishman when he won the race in 2010.
Shutthefrontdoor has not been seen since winning the Weatherbys Bank Graduation Chase at Carlisle in November. Although he did not face the same calibre of rival he will at Aintree, his performance was impressive nonetheless and the eight-year-old claimed the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse last April on good ground so he has the potential to throw it down to the rest of the field.
He also boasts a 100% record at Aintree – a Novices’ Chase win in October 2013 slightly inferior to the Grand National admittedly.
It would be the ultimate swansong for McCoy and bookmakers have already admitted that if Shutthefrontdoor does indeed claim victory they would be facing the biggest pay out in history.
It may be worth siding with the man who has had to play second fiddle to McCoy for two decades however.
Richard Johnson probably cannot wait for his best friend in racing to retire but on board Balthazar King he has a very strong chance of claiming his first victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase. If the Philip Hobbs-trained 11-year-old’s jumping is up to scratch, you have to feel that he will be there or thereabouts as the has the ability to run all day long. He has very impressive form at Cheltenham and Aintree, finishing a five-length runner up to Pineau Du Re in the race twelve months ago.
He has also won six of his last seven races at Cheltenham on all types of ground so regardless of the weather he should be able to settle and find a controlled rhythm. The National allows very generous prices because of the sheer unpredictability of the event, but 14/1 on a proven horse is very generous, providing he jumps to the best of his ability as previously stated.
Two horses who flattered to deceive in the Cheltenham Gold Cup are also interesting candidates. The rain that came late on the Thursday of the meeting should have given Many Clouds a perfect opportunity to strike.
However he never seemed to settle into the race and the front-running pace of Coneygree meant he never realistically had a shout of worrying the winner. The Gloucestershire hill seemed to empty his tank and he is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to say that.
He does not even boast good form at the Merseyside course but the longer distance may work to his benefit, provided the rain comes again. He has never had a crack on soft ground at Aintree and the booking of last year’s winning jockey Leighton Aspell could be crucial. If he settles early on and cuts out the jumping errors that slightly hindered him at Prestbury Park the extra mile may work out in his favour. He has never run beyond three miles and two furlongs but there has to be a first time for everything and why not do it on one of the biggest stage of them all?
Sam Winner may have only been trainer Paul Nicholls second-string horse in the Gold Cup behind Silviniaco Conti but it was still a surprise to see him not even complete the race. Nicholls insisted that the ante post price of 33/1 was too long and that he had a big race to run. Another who could not contend with the pace set by the Mark-Bradstock trained winner, Sam Twiston Davies just could not get him into stride and found nothing when asked of him.
Which horse will win the 2015 Grand National?
Yet there are still some very admirable qualities about the eight-year-old. He was a very impressive front-running winner of a handicap chase at the same course in November and he followed that up at Aintree the following month when winning a race containing Ma Filleule who went on to finish second in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival. Like Many Clouds, he has yet to prove he has the stamina beyond Gold Cup distance but he arguably jumps better than the Oliver Sherwood-trained eight-year-old.
Nicholls has admitted that Sam Winner will need to ‘bounce at home’ in order to run and hopefully he will do just that as he still has a point to prove and is more than capable of producing on his day. Both horses can be backed at 33/1 and on potential alone they are worth considering.
Another interesting Nicholls contender is Rebel Rebellion, who did well to win a handicap chase at Newbury in March. He won the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree in 2013 and followed that up with a fifth placed finish in the same race last year. A horse that always seems to be in the frame, especially on good ground, he is another who should go well, despite odds of 40/1 in places suggesting otherwise.
So, almost a year on from Pineau De Re’s five-length victory it is almost time to do it all over again. An epic four mile slog which separates the best from the rest. Mark April 11 in your diaries. It is going to be special.
Which horse will win the 2015 Grand National? Post your predictions in the comments below!
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