Triolo D’Alene can defy the handicapper to land the biggest steeple chase in the world – the £1m Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree tomorrow.
The French-bred gelding has climbed 25lb in the handicap ratings since winning the Topham Trophy over one circuit of the mighty Aintree fences 12 months ago and only three of the 40 runners will carry more weight, but I reckon he has an outstanding chance of success.
He is only a seven-year-old and I would normally regard one of such tender age as not having enough experience to tackle the greatest race in the world – but Triolo D’Alene is no ordinary horse. Successful in two of his five races in France before joining top trainer Nicky Henderson at Lambourn, he has raced exclusively over fences here with four victories and several placings to his credit and he has never fallen.
His victory at this meeting last year was hard fought and not without jumping blemishes, but he has improved since then, following up at Huntingdon before a summer break. The gelding netted another major prize when winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November – the first major chase of the season – and was immediately earmarked for a spring campaign.
He came back from a break of 14 weeks to contest the Cheltenham Gold Cup and proved that he was up to that class, even though he could finish only tenth. Sent off a 33-1 outsider, he came through to join the leaders inside the final mile and was only just beginning to feel the pace when badly hampered at the penultimate obstacle. Not surprisingly he soon weakened, but he finished just nine lengths behind Teaforthree in eighth.
The latter runs tomorrow and has to be on everyone’s shortlist after a great effort to finish third in this great race last year, but the bookies have him as the 7-1 favourite, while Triolo D’Alene is almost three times those odds at 20-1, so I know where the best value lies. Not that I would advise against Teaforthree if he is your fancy, for he is a fine jumper who stays well and has run some good races since that effort here last spring, especially when narrowly beaten at Ascot in February.
Monbeg Dude is vying for favouritism and must be considered. He beat Teaforthree in last year’s Welsh National at Chepstow and landed a good prize at Cheltenham before Christmas, while Balthazar King merits attention, having won the cross country event at the Cheltenham festival recently.
The Rainbow Hunter impressed me with a recent success at Doncaster, but has no prior experience of these fences, while that remark also applies to Mountainous who beat Hawkes Point and Tidal Bay in a tremendous finish to this year’s Welsh National in January.
Mountainous is best in the mud, while it is asking a huge question of 13-year-old Tidal Bay to win under top weight, even though he is perhaps leniently treated on official ratings. Rocky Creek had some good form as a novice last term – he was third in a valuable event over the smaller fences here at this meeting last year – and chased home Triolo D’Alene in the Hennessy.
The gelding again ran well when a close second at Cheltenham in January on his only other start this term. He is 5lb better off with Triolo D’Alene, but has no experience of these fences.
For those who like to follow grey horses, may I suggest Swing Bill as a lively outsider. The veteran has by far the most experience of these fences, having failed to complete the course only once when pulled up in heavy ground in the Beecher Chase three years ago. Since then he has tackled the National itself, finishing tenth two years ago after being hampered at halfway and then sixth last year when he was prominent throughout and faded only from the penultimate obstacle.
He has fallen only once in a career of 35 races and that came on his hurdling debut in France way back in 2005. He should give supporters a good run for their money, especially if the rain stays away.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy will be on board Double Seven. The Irish challenger rattled up a winning sequence of five races at home between July and October last year and needed the run badly when sixth on his reappearance recently. But he wears both cheek pieces to help his concentration and a tongue strap to help his breathing – not the ideal scenario for a task such as this.
Top trainer Nicky Henderson has never landed this prize and saddles four contenders, including Triolo D’Alene and Long Run who has been far from disgraced in top company since winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years ago when he beat the mighty Denman.
He has been out of the first four only once in 12 races against top-class opposition since then, that blot coming when he unseated his rider at the final fence at Kempton’s big Christmas meeting. That is the only time he has failed to complete the course in 35 starts which have yielded 15 victories and seven runner-up berths with earnings of more than £1.5m. I shall be having an each-way saver on him, but his stable companion Triolo D’Alene will be my main bet. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty has been itching to ride this horse in this race since that Hennessy triumph and his judgment can prove spot on.