Horses need plenty of experience to conquer this demanding course, the last seven year old or younger to win was in 1940. At the other end of the scale horses don’t want to be approaching retirement age either. Horses beyond the age of 12 have found the race’s rigours all too demanding with no winner since 1923. Keep 8 to 12 year olds on your side for the reward of the winners enclosure. With relation to weight, no horse has carried over 11st 5lb to victory in the last 50 years, so rule out those at the top of the race card. The Aintree showpiece is of course a massive test of endurance and you have to go back around four decades to find a national winner who hadn’t already won over 3m plus. Ruling out any horse wearing headgear would also be logical as no horse wearing blinkers, visors or cheek pieces has won since Earth Summit done the business in the 1970s and there have been plenty who have entered. We can look at horses now who suit our numbers.
Donald McCain can write his name in racing folklore alongside his father, Ginger, trainer of Red Rum with Cloudy Lane. It can pay to avoid horses who have been trained specifically for the Cheltenham festival as many arrive over-hyped and having already peaked, not so Cloudy Lane who has been campaigned with this race in mind. He has been receiving plenty of support in the market and could go off as short as 4-1 in places. The price is no surprise as Cloudy Lane would be carrying 20lb more had the weights for the National been framed after his most recent win at Doncaster. Whether the short price is perceived as value with a horse that has faded over longer distances before is open to question.
Slim Pickings returns for another crack at the race having finished third last year. Six of the seven winners since 2001 have previous experience of the Aintree fences and horses either tend to love them or hate them; this fellow seems to love them. He may well have taken the honours last year bar a few mistakes towards the finale. Barry Geraghty on board is a definite plus around this course too and they will be an experienced duo, though they won’t want further softening of ground.
A couple of fallers at the first is a regular occurrence as 40 horses try to clear the chaotic fence and Point Barrow, the 2006 Irish National winner was a victim of the carnage last year. With more luck in running he can go close, he is a proven stayer and has an acceleration of foot when in the mood.
Chelsea Harbour has stamina to burn and won the National Trial at Punchestown over 3m 4f on his penultimate start. Thomas Mullins trains and Irish trainers deserve the utmost respect in the big race having provided 50% of the winners from a 15% ratio of total runners. A very safe jumper and would like the heavens to open to benefit his chances.
Comply or Die has found his form just in time for the big race. Under top weight he won the Eider Chase last time out and wont find the distance or the fences overwhelming. With blinkers added he was like a new horse chasing home Cloudy Lane, when conceding 2lb at Haydock before winning the Eider. Black marks though regarding horses wearing blinkers in the National have been flagged up.
Kelami has already had two non completions in the National. He may be worth another chance. Last time out saw him come back into form with a runners-up place in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton beating another National touted runner Simon into 4th place. Well weighted on 10st 9lb.
Conclusion:- Favourite Cloudy Lane remains open to stamina concerns and at a race in which luck is a major factor in running Slim Pickings may be a viable market leader alternative. At longer prices it may be worth taking a chance on 2 horses putting their previous National form behind them with Kelami and Point Barrow.
As for the layers, concentrate on taking on those horses being burdened with a heavy weight of 11st 5lb plus. In-running can be a great source of income and it pays not to be too patient, with many horses trading a lot shorter after the off. Beware though layers, as many Nationals have seen winners come from off the pace.
1. Simon 2. Bewleys Berry 3. Knowhere