Irish trainers may be fielding more than half of the 40-strong field for the £1m Randox Health Grand National, but Scotland will have three challengers – and none of them can be ruled out of winning the greatest race in the world.
Lake View Lad and Captain Redbeard are both trained in the Scottish Borders by Nick Alexander and Stuart Coltherd respectively and, in recent weeks, the former has moved into the top half-dozen in the betting lists following some excellent efforts.
Successes at Newcastle and Wetherby before Christmas earned him a trip to the Cheltenham Festival where he finished an excellent third in a highly-competitive Grade Three chase despite an 8lb hike in the ratings.
The gelding was always with the leaders before staying on well up the hill and, although he faces another mile or more and has never tackled marathon trips before, he may well become only the fifth grey horse to capture the greatest prize in steeplechasing. He carries the colours of Lancashire millionaire Trevor Hemmings, who has already taken this prize on three occasions.
One for Arthur has already proved his credentials with a great victory in this four-and-a-half mile marathon two years ago but injury prevented him from seeking a follow-up 12 months ago and he has come to grief in both his starts this term following an 18-month lay-off.
He blundered and unseated his rider early on on his reappearance over these fences in the Mildmay Chase in December and again got rid of jockey Derek Fox at Haydock in January, but Fife trainer Lucinda Russell is adamant that he is back to his best. He will need to be though, for he runs off a 6lbs higher mark and has looked ring rusty so far this term.
Captain Redbeard looks set to creep in at the bottom of the handicap and, at odds of 33-1, he could prove to be a lively outsider. He has tackled these fences three times without much luck, unseating Sam Coltherd – the trainer’s son – on the first circuit last year, having previously run well in the Mildmay Chase earlier that season when he was hampered and finished sixth.
The gelding lined up for the Grand Sefton Chase over one circuit of this track in December and was again well beaten, but his trainer – who also owns the horse – said: “Another horse fell in front of him that day and he lost a good position. But he has been in great form since then.”
Captain Redbeard beat a decent stayer in Definitely Red in a chase at Kelso in February and ran well when a close third on that track recently, He has won four of his eight races over fences and been placed in seven of the others. In fact, the only time he has fallen was at the final hurdle at Ayr three seasons ago when he looked assured of victory.
Last year’s hero, Tiger Roll, heads the all-star cast and the bookies have him as red-hot favourite following a success over hurdles at Navan in February prior to a third Cheltenham Festival success when he romped away with the cross country chase three weeks ago.
He is pretty sure-footed, but isn’t very big and has 8lbs more on his back this time so, at odds of around 4-1, he represents very poor value indeed and won’t be carrying any of my cash.
His trainer, Gordon Elliott, has two Aintree Nationals to his credit and fields a dozen runners this time when Jury Duty and Dounikos could prove best of them, even though neither of the pair have experience of these fences.
The former has won his last two races – a £200,000 Grade One hurdle at Fairyhouse in October and then a staying chase in the mud at Dromore after a 147-day break – while Dounikos appeals as a young horse with plenty of stamina as he showed when winning the three-and-a-half mile Grand National Trial at Punchestown in February. At 28-1, he looks deecnt each-way value.
Top Irish trainer Paddy Mullins has two leading contenders in Pleasant Memories and Rathvinden. The former only just failed to catch Tiger Roll 12 months ago and now has a 3lbs pull in the weights, but has been below par in two runs this term.
Rathvinden, though, produced a fine effort to win the Bobby Jo Chase – a renowned National trial – at Fairyhouse in February after being off the track for ten months. He won the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year, so there can be no doubting his stamina.
He carries the colours of Airdrie-based potato merchant Ronnie Bartlett whose company are great supporters of National Hunt racing and sponsor races up and down the UK.
Last year’s Scottish National winner, Joe Farrell will also have his supporters following a fine effort when runner-up at Newbury recently, while Anibale Fly has to come firmly into the equation even though he has to give weight to all his rivals.
He was third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup before finishing an excellent fourth in this event last year when he overcame interference in the early stages and trainer Tony Martin has followed the exact same preparation with his nine-year-old, who was staying on strongly when chasing home Al Boum Photo in the Blue Riband at the Cheltenham Festival last month.
It would be no surprise if this very classy customer went one better tomorrow, but the big weight may prove just too much and Rathvinden gets my vote.
JOE ROWNTREE’S TIPS
2. Anibale Fly
4. Captain Redbeard