There’s a great deal of water set to flow under the bridge before the forty runners face the starter at Aintree on 11 April, 2015, for the £1 million Crabbie’s Grand National, but already two serious contenders have demonstrated their respective wellbeing and could be set to play major roles on the big day itself, writes Elliot Slater.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Balthazar King is one of the most consistent and popular long-distance chasers in Britain and ran the race of his life at Aintree last April when coming home a brave runner-up to Dr Richard Newland’s Pineau de Re in “the world’s greatest steeplechase”. The 10-year-old, amongst the leading fancies for last season’s Grand National and sent off a well supported 14/1 shot, was never far from the pace and held every chance at the second fence from home.
It was only after the last of the 30 awesome fences that the Richard Johnson-ridden son of King’s Theatre found himself unable to quicken with the eventual winner, but he went down to an honourable five-length defeat, cementing his position as one of the best horses in the business in the top staying handicap chases.
Currently a top-priced 33/1 shot to go one better in this season’s renewal, Balthazar King, who arrived at Aintree on the back of four consecutive wins in cross country and staying handicap chases – including the feature Glenfarclas Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – followed his Aintree heroics with an unfortunate run in France, falling at the sixth fence from home in a marathon cross country event.
Following his well earned summer break Hobbs’ star showed he is already raring to go this term when winning a listed cross country chase back in France at Craon in early September, powering away from his rivals in the closing stages to register a comfortable three-length success from Kapville. Almost certain to follow the same route back to Aintree this term as 12 months ago, Balthazar King is unlikely to find too many peers in his particular niche.
Another horse to have already followed a fine run in last year’s Grand National with an eye-catching effort this term is the Michael Scudamore-trained Monbeg Dude. Seventh in the Grand National having been in with every chance on the home turn before fading from the second last, the 2012 Coral Welsh Grand National winner was a much improved performer last season, winning the Grade 3 Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Chase at Cheltenham‘s December fixture where he defeated the talented Theatre Guide by a length-and-a-quarter.
Beginning this term back at Chepstow on October 11, (the site of his Welsh National success nearly two years earlier), the nine-year-old was sent off a relatively unconsidered 14/1 shot for the well contested John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase over what is almost certainly his bare minimum trip of just three miles. Amongst the back markers, as usual, for much of the contest, Tom Scudamore’s mount began to make steady headway inside the final mile and came through on the inside rail to hold every chance after the second last. He challenged strongly again on the flat but couldn’t hold Victor’s Serenade, (received 11lbs), eventually losing out by just two lengths to the Anthony Honeyball-trained winner.
At his best when the mud is flying, but also a very capable performer on a better surface, Monbeg Dude, like Balthazar King, currently rates a 33/1 shot in the ante-post market for the Crabbie’s Grand National and will doubtless already be of interest to plenty of punters.