The countdown is well and truly on to the world famous Grand National at Aintree on April 11 and more serious contenders are starting to emerge as the final warm-up races produce performances that make punters sit up and take notice.
One particularly good example was the excellent winning effort of the Neil Mulholland-trained The Druids Nephew (8/1) on the opening of the Cheltenham Festival. He well and truly threw his hat into the Grand National 2015 ring with a terrific victory in the Grade Three Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase, which was run over three-miles-one-furlong.
The gelded son of leading National Hunt sire King’s Theatre has long been thought of as a potentially suitable contender for the unique challenge of the Aintree marathon. He is a sound jumper, stays well, and has a touch of class about him. He demonstrated this Tuesday when putting in an exemplary effort to defeat 23 rivals in a fiercely competitive contest. A 33/1 shot for the Grand National in many ante-post lists prior to his Cheltenham win, he is now generally on offer at just 16/1 having impressed so many observers.
Formerly trained by Andy Turnell, for whom he showed decent handicap form, The Druids Nephew has improved for his new handler this season and won nicely under Tony McCoy on his first start of the campaign at Huntingdon. Off a 9lb higher rating, he then ran a blinder at Cheltenham’s November meeting when finding only the smart Sam Winner too good for him in the feature Grade Three Murphy Group Handicap Chase. He then ran a creditable seventh in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury behind the high-class Many Clouds.
He switched to hurdles and was far from disgraced when fifth to the talented Saphir du Rheu in the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle back at Cheltenham in January, having held every chance at the penultimate flight. This was a race that clearly put him spot on for his finest hour at the Cheltenham Festival, where he won impressively off a mark of 146. He will run off the same rating at Aintree, as performances following the February publication of the Grand National weights cannot be taken into account, so will technically be eight to ten pounds ahead of the handicapper if he takes his chance.
Third home in the Cheltenham race was Tony Martin’s Gallant Oscar, who stayed on well having been given plenty to do. He is also entered for “the world’s greatest steeplechase” and was generally trimmed from 50/1 to 33/1 in light of his rock-solid effort. Of the others in what could prove to be a race with a significant bearing on the destiny of the £1million Grand National, the former Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude, a highly creditable seventh behind Pineau de Re in last year’s Aintree marathon, was taken off his feet on ground too quick for him. But he was noted keeping on dourly late in the day to finish 14th.
If he were to encounter a softer surface at Aintree, he would not be without a chance and is currently a 33/1 chance in the ante-post lists.