Jockey Leighton Aspell bids to make history by completing a hat-trick of Grand National victories tomorrow when again partnering last year’s hero Many Clouds in the world’s greatest race.
The pair galloped to victory 12 months ago and several horses have won this marathon on more than one occasion, while Many Clouds owner Trevor Hemmings has already tasted victory on three occasions.
Several jockeys have registered multiple victories in this great race since it began in 1839, but no rider has managed three consecutive wins. On eight occasions riders have landed the prize two years running but no-one has managed three, so history and statistics are against Aspell.
Many Clouds has been in great form though, finishing second in a Listed chase over the Mildmay course here in December and runner-up again in a valuable event at Cheltenham in January before winning in great style at Kelso recently.
So he deserves his place at the head of the betting, but the handicapper has him on a 5lbs higher mark now and at odds of around 8-1, he represents moderate value.
By contrast Saint Are, who chased him home last year, can be backed at double those odds and that seems better value to me.
Saint Are was staying on strongly to be beaten one and three-quarter lengths and was also initially raised 5lbs by the handicapper, but he has relented slightly by dropping the gelding 3lbs after two defeats at Cheltenham and Aintree before Christmas.
But Saint Are was far from disgraced in finishing seventh in the Becher Chase over one circuit of these mighty fences on the latter occasion after a bad blunder four from home and is at his best in the spring and on this track.
A winner of the Grade One Sefton Novices Hurdle at this fixture in 2011, the gelding took a Listed Chase over the smaller Mildmay fences the following spring.
His first attempt at the National saw him finish ninth behind Aurora’s Encore in 2013. His only Aintree blemish came the following year when he failed to make the cut in the National and fell in a Listed event over the Mildmay track.
But he was back to finish third in the Becher Chase later that year and was a convincing winner at Catterick last February before his gallant effort 12 months ago.
Now a 10-year-old, he showed he still has an engine with a victory in a veteran’s chase on his return to action at Doncaster last month. He meets Many Clouds on 2lbs better terms now and it could be much closer between them this time.
The Druids Nephew made his Aintree debut in this event last year and was well supported in the betting. He travelled strongly and went ahead six fences from home, but he hit the deck at the very next obstacle and it is easy to see him getting into the shake-up this time.
The gelding was runner-up at Doncaster recently to The Last Samurai who is also prominent in the big race betting. The eight-year-old has won five of his eight races over fences and is chasing a hat-trick after scoring at Kempton prior to that Doncaster victory, but tackles these fences for the first time.
Holywell is another facing these mighty obstacles for the first time and will be one of the smallest horses in the line-up, but he has plenty of good form over the Mildmay track at this fixture and is definitely a spring horse.
He won a Grade One event and was runner-up in good company twice over hurdles at this fixture in his younger days and has developed into a classy chaser.
The gelding was fourth in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and bounced back to his best form when runner-up in the Ultima Chase at the festival three weeks ago. But rain to ease the underfoot conditions would not be in his favour.
The Irish have a decent record, but it is nine years since their last victory with Silver Birch. This time top trainer Willie Mullins has a whole host of entries, best of which may be Boston Bob.
This fellow was in front when falling at the final fence in the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup and won the £112,000 Grade One Melling Chase here the following year before following up in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
He was fifth in that top event last spring, having finished tenth in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham before that and the handicapper seems to have given him a real chance, having dropped him to a mark of 151.
That is 4lbs lower than when winning the Grade Two Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse – a race which often has a bearing on proceedings at Aintree – in mid-February. He faces up to these fences for the first time, but some bookmakers are offering 33-1 and that looks a tempting each-way bet.
Khruzlinan is another making his National debut. He was having his first run since finishing second over hurdles at Musselburgh last spring when winning at Kempton in January and ran well when fifth at last month’s Cheltenham Festival. But his partner, champion jockey elect Richard Johnson, has had 19 rides in the National without success!
O’Faolains Boy also makes his debut over these obstacles. The bay beat Many Clouds by two-and-a-half lengths in a valuable novice affair at Ascot two years ago and followed up with a game success over Smad Place in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He was then favourite when fifth behind Holywell over the Mildmay course, but was then absent for 18 months. But he won at Newbury just before Christmas and turned in a fine effort when leading for a long way in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The nine-year-old was eventually well beaten, but he only weakened at the penultimate fence and appeals as a decent each-way shot at around 40-1.
Paul Nicholls has several runners with the classy Silviniaco Conti near the top of the weights. He has an excellent record over the smaller fences here, having won the Grade One Betfred Bowl for the past two years.
He wore blinkers for the first time when winning a Grade One event at Ascot by 20 lengths in February. He has seven Grade One victories on his CV and has collected more than £1m in prize money, so must be considered, even though he faces these fences and this marathon trip for the first time.
Soll has plenty of experience here. He was seventh behind Aurora’s Encore on his Aintree debut three years ago when a mistake at Valentines on the second circuit cost him dear.
He missed the cut for the National the following year so ran in the Topham Trophy over one circuit of the track and could finish only 11th after being hampered.
But he was back to run well 12 months ago. Always prominent, he led at the fence after Bechers on the second circuit, but was headed six from home. He was still in there fighting until weakening from the second last though and eventually finished ninth, but it later transpired that he had broken a blood vessel.
The 11-year-old was a good fourth in the Becher Chase here before Christmas and then stayed on grimly to win the final of the Veteran’s Chase Series at Sandown early in January.
He turned a below par effort at Kelso in February, but is at home over these obstacles and could figure again, especially if conditions are testing.
The heavy April showers and their effect on the track will have a big bearing too and supporters of Saint Are will be hoping the rain stays away as the gelding is best on a sounder surface, but unless it turns up a quagmire, he will carry some of my cash.
O’Faolains Boy and Soll are suggested as the best each-way outsiders, but Boston Bob looks so well handicapped that he has to be my main hope.