Joe Rowntree: Soll set to shine in Grand National

Soll's form has improved since having blinkers fitted
Soll's form has improved since having blinkers fitted
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Soll has crept into the £1 million Crabbie’s Grand National at the bottom of the handicap and can make his light weight tell in the big race tomorrow.

The gelding has just 10st 2lbs to carry in the gruelling four-and-a-half mile marathon, his ability to handle these mighty fences is already proven, there are no doubts about his stamina and his rider comes from a family with National silver already on the sideboard.

Jockey Tom Scudamore’s grandfather Michael was successful on board Oxo way back in 1959 while father Peter was eight-times champion jockey and, although he never tasted Aintree glory, he was closely involved with Grand National winners Miinehoma and Little Polveir. Tom’s elder brother Michael is a successful trainer and actually saddles Monbeg Dude in tomorrow’s contest.

Furthermore, Soll is trained by David Pipe, who took the world’s greatest race with Comply or Die in 2008 while his father Martin was champion trainer several times and saddled Miinnehoma for victory in 1994. So at odds of around 20-1, Soll certainly appeals as a cast-iron each-way bet.

Soll has twice raced over the mighty Aintree fences, turning in a fine effort when seventh in the big event two years ago. He chased the leaders throughout and, despite jumping errors at The Chair and at Valentines Brook on the second circuit, he weakened only from the penultimate obstacle.

That was only the 11th race of his career and he was racing from 2lbs out of the weights, but failed to make the cut for the big race 12 months ago, so instead ran in the Topham Trophy over just one circuit of these obstacles. Hampered at the Canal turn, he was staying on to finish 11th of the 30 runners, but the two-mile, five-furlong trip was clearly inadequate.

The ten-year-old then went to France to bid for the £318,000 prize attached to their Gold Cup at Auteuil, but was pulled up in that top-class event over three-and-three-quarter miles.

After a long summer break, it was eight months before he saw racecourse action again, but he bounced back in great style to win over three miles at Exeter early in February on his first run for Pipe and then defied a 9lbs hike in the ratings to follow up at Newbury three weeks later. That was after the National weights had been published, so he looks well treated now as he doesn’t get a penalty.

The gelding has had only 16 races – including finishing first and second in two Irish points in his early days – and he has run with credit in top staying events such as the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh National. But he has had four different trainers and clearly has had his problems. However, Pipe seems to have found the key to improving the chestnut, fitting a tongue tie at Exeter and replacing the usual cheek pieces with blinkers at Newbury. “The horse came to us in late summer and had some decent form, but he had also been breaking blood vessels,” explained Pipe. “The blinkers certainly seemed to help.”

It would be a fairytale if champion jockey Tony McCoy – who is about to retire – could bow out with victory on board Shutthefrontdoor in the colours he carried to victory on Don’t Push It five years ago. The gelding won the Irish National over just short of four miles last Easter, having earlier finished a close sixth at the Cheltenham Festival. He possesses stamina in abundance and won his only start this term at Carlisle, but now races off a mark some 13lbs higher than for that big Irish triumph and, although he has won nine of his 14 races, he has yet to tackle these fences. The bookies already have him at falsely short odds in anticipation of a flood of sentimental support from McCoy’s legion of fans.

Proven ability to handle these obstacles is vital and last year’s hero Pineau de Re is back for more. But he races off an 8lbs higher mark and has cut little ice in four starts over hurdles this term, so it is hard to see him landing the big prize again.

Alvarado and Rocky Creek were fourth and fifth last year and there might not be much between them again. The bookies expect Rocky Creek to prove best of the pair, though, as they have him as a leading fancy at around 9-1 following some decent efforts this year, particularly when winning at Kempton in February. That success came after the weights had been published, so he also escapes a penalty and actually races off a mark 2lbs lower than 12 months ago.

Chance du Roy and Monbeg Dude were sixth and seventh last year respectively and line up again. The latter has bags of stamina as underlined by his victory in the 2013 Coral Welsh National. He was an excellent fourth in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at the start of this term and has not been disgraced since then.

Chance du Roy is an old hand here, having tackled these fences on half-a-dozen occasions. He came to grief when going well in the Grand Sefton Chase over one circuit at the winter fixture in 2012, but had finished second in the Topham Trophy at this fixture earlier that year. He finished ninth in that event in 2013 before winning the Becher Chase over three-and-a-quarter miles here in December of that year and then came his effort in this 12 months ago.

He again handled the fences with ease when fifth in the Becher Chase just before last Christmas and, at odds of around 40-1, he could be a decent each-way bet, given that impressive jumping record.

With warm, sunny weather continuing to dry the course out, underfoot conditions will suit Night in Milan. A sound jumper, he has fallen only once in 33 starts over obstacles and could also get into the shake-up, as could Cause of Causes. He won the four-mile chase at Cheltenham last month and can prove best of the Irish contingent for trainer Gordon Elliott, who tasted Grand National victory with Silver Birch in 2007.