The Grand National is a changing race. The trends-followers would have been very keen to back the lower-weighted horses a few years ago but since the fences have been lowered and the handicapper has made it his business to tighten up the weights, the last three winners have all carried 11 stone or more. That would have been unthinkable in the 1990s and at the start of this millennium.
Whether that is making finding winners any easier is open to debate, in fact the victory of 100/1 shot Mon Mome three years ago suggests the race is more open now than it has ever been, but there are a few horses that look the right type at this stage and none more so than last year’s winner, Ballabriggs.
The Aintree epic is synonymous with the McCain family and Ballabriggs was targeted at the race again the moment he crossed the line in front last April. The key point about this horse is that he is a great jumper and loves to race prominently, the two most pertinent factors when trying to find the winner of the National.
Obviously, Ballabriggs will have more weight this year and will be close to the top of the handicap, but he couldn’t be in better hands and there is no reason why he won’t run very well again.
Another horse that has been aimed at the race for some time now is David Pipe’s Junior. Two years ago, Ballabriggs won the Kim Muir at the Festival before going on to win the National the following season and that is exactly the route Junior is taking.
The only difference is that Junior won that Cheltenham Festival race far more easily than Ballabriggs and, as a consequence, went up 19lb in the handicap.
Nevertheless, Pipe still thinks there is room for manoeuvre with his handicap rating and the stable won the race in 2008 with Comply or Die.
After a period of domination in the early part of the millennium, the Irish have struggled recently in terms of finding the winner but the past two runners-up have both been trained across the Irish Sea and this time around there are three Irish horses that look to have the right profile.
The first is Willie Mullins’ On His Own, who was the runaway winner of the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park earlier this season, a race Mullins won with his previous National winner, Hedgehunter.
Another would be Chicago Grey, trained by Gordon Elliott of Silver Birch fame. This horse won the four-miler at Cheltenham last year, easily beating Beshabar, who went on to win the Scottish National later that season. If he could recapture that form, he would have a huge chance.
The final one to consider is from left field but Alfa Beat was one of the most improved chasers in Ireland last season and has been earmarked for the Aintree race for a long time now.
He unseated his rider over hurdles last time, which was far from ideal, but bar that mishap, he has the profile of a National winner and might well surprise a few come April at Aintree.
PRICEWISE’S TOP PICKS
On His Own 20/1
Chicago Grey 20/1
Alfa Beat 33/1
This article was written by Tom Segal for Close Up, the world’s best informed sports and betting magazine. Click here to get a FREE version of Close Up for your iPAD.