Holywell and Saint Are look good each-way value for Grand National

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The weights were announced this week for the Crabbie’s Grand National which will be run at its new time of 5.15pm at Aintree on Saturday April 9 with a prize fund of £1m.

Top weight is the 2015 winner Many Clouds who will carry just 1lb more this year (11st 10lbs) in his bid to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum back in 1974 to win the great race in successive years.

Willie Mullins Gold Cup hope Don Poli will carry 1lb less than Oliver Sherwood’s stable star, but at just seven years of age I wonder if Mullins will feel this is a year too soon for last year’s RSA Chase winner?

Don Poli jumps and looks a relentless galloper but you have to go back to Bogskar in 1950 for the last time a seven-year-old won the National.

The Druids Nephew was still going well when coming down five out in last year’s event but he will meet the winner, surprisingly perhaps, on 4lbs worse terms.

I’m not convinced Neil Mullholland will be too pleased with the handicapper, but it must be remembered that he did win at the Cheltenham Festival last year after the weights for the National were announced; that said he still has stamina to prove and will carry 5lbs more than in 2015.

Holywell isn’t the biggest horse in training and has been largely disappointing so far this term, but he loves decent ground and I think the handicapper has certainly given him a chance off 10st 12lbs. In recent years we have had to largely guess who is going to carry top weight in the contest but the 2016 renewal is different as this has long been Many Cloud’s primary objective for the season.

The Jonjo O’Neill yard has had a modest season to date, but many of their best performers want decent ground and Holywell certainly fits that bill. The nine-year-old has never won under rules before Christmas and he ran an absolute cracker on ground softer than ideal when fourth in last year’s Gold Cup behind Coneygree.

He was, arguably, an unlucky loser in the Bowl at Aintree subsequently when constantly carried right by Silviniaco Conti who he would meet on 10lbs better terms if the pair clashed in the National. He isn’t the biggest of animals but if he takes to the fences he is undeniably well handicapped. At 33/1 with BetVictor he is a must for the short-list.

If O’Neill has a good chance with Holywell the same can certainly be said about Shutthefrontdoor (20/1 with BetVictor) who finished fifth last season under AP McCoy and is set to carry 5lbs less.

That said he was beaten 13l by Many Clouds last year and it is hard to see him reverse the form given his stamina seemed to give way 12 months ago, although I know connections feel he may have injured himself slightly in the closing stages.

Evan Williams has a great record in the race without actually winning it and his Buywise is a fascinating contender but will his suspect jumping hold up? He has never won beyond 2m 6f but was staying on all the way to the line over 3m at Doncaster last time and at 50/1 he is another who could outrun those odds; but will he take to the unique Aintree fences?

Last year’s runner up Saint Are is allowed 2lbs for the length-and-three-quarters he was beaten by Many Clouds but he didn’t jump as well as the winner on that occasion making a significant error at Becher’s on the second circuit.

He might be too big at 33/1 with BetVictor given he is another who thrives in the second half of the season, loves good ground and has been laid out for the race. He is bidding to make it third time lucky having also finished ninth as a seven-year-old back in 2013.

Paul Nicholls has a strong hand and he could have at least a couple of well-handicapped animals amongst his nine entries especially if his string hit top form between now and Aintree.

Unioniste only got as far as the fifth in the race 12 months ago but ran his best race of the season at Sandown last time and can meet Many Clouds on 13lbs better terms than he did last year. At 50/1 he looks to have been largely overlooked in the market and the champion trainer has already saddled a winner of the race (Neptune Collonges 2012) for leading owner John Hales.

Of the Irish challenge I hope Willie Mullins gives Sir Des Champs the green light; the 11-year-old finished runner up to Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup back in 2013 and whilst not the force of old is another crying out for better underfoot conditions having twice won at the Cheltenham Festival on good ground.

BHB handicapper Phil Smith has certainly given Many Clouds a chance of following up last year’s victory but at this early stage my two against the field and recommendations for the 2016 Crabbie’s Grand National are:

Holywell 1pt each-way at 33s with BetVictor, Saint Are 1pt each-way 33s with BetVictor.