The weights for the 2018 Randox Health Grand National were announced in London on Tuesday evening with Gold Cup hopeful and recent Cotswold Chase winner Definitly Red (20/1 with BetVictor) heading the weights on 11st 10lbs.
Trainer Brian Ellison reported on the night that he was not ruling out a crack at the National but Cheltenham remains the priority for his stable-star. If we see the horse at Aintree in April, I believe it will be in the Bowl, over the same C&D as when scoring over the Mildmay fences back in December, rather than in the National.
Of the top-weights we know Blaklion (11st 6lbs) will run for dual former winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
BetVictor’s 10/1 market leader will be ridden less prominently than last year, when he was running away with jockey Noel Fehily going over the Melling Road for the second time only to fade into fourth. Gavin Sheehan is likely to be in the plate in the spring.
The nine-year-old improved again to land the Becher Chase over the same fences on heavy ground back in December and he deserves his place as market leader although the worry is he may have missed his chance 12 months ago of Aintree glory.
Willie Mullins’ Hennessy winner Total Recall (11st 1lb) is, arguably, the most fascinating runner in the race but I wonder if this 14/1 chance has the necessary stamina for the trip and his lack of Aintree experience is a slight worry. He has been very well supported in the ante-post lists, but he will have to settle better than he did over timber last time and at 14/1 with BetVictor he is overlooked on this occasion.
I thought Cause Of Causes (10st 12lbs) was brought with a perfectly timed run to win the National last year but just ran in to a better-handicapped horse in One For Arthur. He finished 4l in front of Blaklion last year yet is 6lbs better off and double the price at 20/1 this year with BetVictor who are betting each way five places on the race.
Gordon Elliot’s ten-year-old has been wonderfully campaigned to win at the last three Cheltenham Festivals and is again likely to have his prep race for Aintree in the Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham next month. He is a must for any Grand National shortlist.
I must admit to having thrown a few quid on 12-year-old Saint Are (10st 6lbs) at 50/1 who has absolutely no chance if the ground is soft, but bounces off good ground and has finished runner up (2015) and third (2017) on the two occasions he has encountered a decent surface in the great race.
Amberleigh House (2004) is the last 12-year-old to win the race but Tom George’s horse finished in front of Blaklion twelve months ago and is 9lbs better off. Do note the official going description of last year’s National was good to soft but the ground was certainly nearer good despite early morning rain on the day of the race.
My third recommendation is last year’s sixth Vieux Lion Rouge (10st 9lbs) who has finished seventh (as a novice) in 2016 and sixth last year when hinting that he would be best served by slower ground. The Pipe family know what it takes to win the race and at 33/1, he looks a shade overpriced with BetVictor.
Vieux Lion Rouge has pulled up few trees so far this season, but I’m not convinced the yard were in the best of form in the first half of the season and the handicapper has given this former Becher Chase winner a chance especially if the ground is genuinely good to soft or worse.
At 5.15 on April 14, ITV and Racing UK will broadcast the National to millions across the globe. The race has been modified, quite rightly, for safety reasons over the last decade, but it remains the ultimate challenge for horse and rider over 30 unique, demanding fences and over a gruelling trip in excess of four-and-a-quarter-miles.
The National is the greatest horse race in the world, my favourite day in the sporting calendar and it always will be.
Grand National ante-post recommendations: Cause Of Causes 20/1 BetVictor (five places), Saint Are 40/1 BetVictor, Vieux Lion Rouge 33/1 BetVictor.
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