Now that the velvet curtain has been drawn back at the BHA offices, revealing the hard work of chief handicapper Phil Smith, the market for this years Grand National is starting to have more of a solid feel to it. With a little under two months remaining until the race itself, here are my thoughts about the first four currently at the top of the betting:
He's without a win since he landed the four mile chase at the Cheltenham Festival two years ago but he's put up some brave efforts in defeat. Plus, the way he took to the fences last year was very pleasing if you're in his camp again this time around. He was bold, brave and had a beautiful rhythm over the two circuits of the track. He's been given a chance to shine once again this year as the handicapper has dropped his rating from 151 to 149, meaning he will race off 2lbs lower than he did in 2013. The quicker ground, that seems to be the norm at Aintree these days, suits him well and he's coming to the boil nicely having run an excellent race at Ascot on Saturday to finish second in a handicap chase there.
The fact he was tipped up by the Racing Post's Pricewise last week has meant his price has collapsed. But with everything in his favour, you can see why. He should be thereabouts on the day given a clear round.
Tidal Bay is an old warrior of a horse and one whose powers don't seem to be diminishing with age. He's a three time Grade One winner and has shown on more than one occasion his ability to fly home at the death of races. This would suggest that the marathon trip at Aintree shouldn't be a problem for him. He's competed in the race once before back in 2011, but he never made it around that day as he unseated his jockey. He's back to try again though, now as a teenager.
While it's always going to be tough for a horse his age to win, he's been given a chance at the weights as he'll be running off a handicap rating which is 7lbs below his normal BHA rating. If he can stay in contention as they head out into the country for the second circuit of the National, then you'd have to fear him. Looking at all the factors you'd say it's going to be very difficult for him to come home ahead of everything else on the day, but it wouldn't be a massive shock if he did, given the way he's been running of late in top class races such as the Welsh National and the Lexus Chase.
A horse that has been handled very well by his trainer Michael Scudamore this season, with the Grand National having been the aim all along.
A winner of the Welsh National last season (in which he beat Teaforthree into second, albeit they'll be much closer at the weights at Aintree) he's had just the three starts so far this term, culminating in a victory at Cheltenham in a Grade Three chase during December. He's been kept off the track since then, specifically to protect his rating with the National in mind. Having been due to run at Haydock on Saturday, he had to miss the race due to a dirty scope. Connections are now looking at Doncaster on March 1st as his next port of call leading up to Aintree.
His jumping style had been a slight issue last year but he's been receiving some help in that department this year from former Eventing world champion Zara Tindall, her husband Mike being a part owner of Monbeg Dude. He's also a winner on good, soft and heavy ground, showing he's versatile regarding the going. It's hard to knock his Aintree credentials, especially if his prep race goes to plan.
A horse that's been competing in all of the top chases for the past three seasons. He's usually as consistent as they come. He's landed two King George's, one Cheltenham Gold Cup and has been placed in those races a further three times.
It's unusual for a horse of his calibre not to be the top weight in the National. He hasn't raced with the same gusto this year and has maybe lost some of his old spark for the very top of the game, but he's dangerous to ignore back in a handicap race like the National. A recent win at Kelso will have boosted his confidence again and one would think that connections will wrap him up now and keep him fresh for the first weekend in April.
He hasn't run over marathon trips before, but there's confidence behind him being able to handle it and in Sam Waley-Cohen he has a pilot who excels over the spruce fences that Aintree serves up. Long Run's ability and class are hard to ignore and there might just be a touch of value about his current odds.
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