It's now just eleven days until the 2011 Grand National at Aintree and, after my original post on the race back on 21st February, all of the final prep runs are in the book.
So, barring going preferences on which we'll have to hazard an educated guess, things are unlikely to change between now and race time, which means that there might still be a little dollop of ante-post value to be had.
My original post is here: Grand National 2011 preview
And, to be honest, not too much has happened in between to deviate my wagering affections from the shortlist mentioned there. But there are a couple of minor amendments to my initial shortlist.
With Don't Push It confirmed as a runner, and therefore anchoring the weights in place, we can now take a firmer view of the range to look at. In my previous post, I posited that the handicapper's discretion has now increased the maximum amount of weight a horse could realistically lug to victory, on the basis that class horses can be given weight concessions that they wouldn't get in a normal handicap.
The flip side of this, in my opinion at least, is that it makes it much more difficult for a horse towards the bottom of the weight / ratings range to get competitive.
Consider the minimum weight shouldered by any of the first four home in recent years:
2010 > 10-11
2009 > 11-02
2008 > 10-09
So clearly the old adages about weight have been stood on their head. The maximum weight transported into the frame (first four) in the same period was as follows:
2010 > 11-06
2009 > 11-06
2008 > 11-03
Now whilst three years is a small sample indeed, I believe quite strongly that this is an emergent pattern and consequently it's one I expect to see repeated this season.
My original shortlist comprised this fine body of beasties: Chief Dan George, Fair Along (non-runner), Oscar Time, Snowy Morning (non-runner), Northern Alliance, State Of Play, West End Rocker, Bluesea Cracker
To these, I'd like to add the Willie Mullins pair, Dooney's Gate and Scotsirish. Mullins won this in 2005 with Hedgehunter, and his record since that year is impressive, with 50% of his twelve runners (or six of them in old money) finishing in the top ten, including a 2nd (Hedgehunter again) and 3rd (Snowy Morning) placing as well. Two more were 11th and 13th.
Scotsirish has now qualified due to the movement of the weights with previous entries due to carry more than Don't Push It being scratched from the race. Dooney's Gate is considered on the same basis, though strictly on the rules in the other post, he hasn't won at this class.
Scotsirish was second in the Topham Chase over the National fences at last year's meeting, and has a twelve pound pull with Always Waining, his conqueror that day and a possible for the cut in the main event this year, for a twelve length beating. Scotsirish has plenty of class, as two Grade 2 wins and a Â£50k Punchestown Festival win attest and, despite a propensity to bungle the occasional barrier, he does have a very likeable habit of finding a hoof or four on the other side and retaining the human-equine union.
Indeed, in his six runs since the Topham last year, Scotsirish has not raced below Grade 2 company, and can boast two bronze medals (albeit in short fields). His big field form (more than twenty runners) is 61112, so it may well be argued that he is best suited by a strong pace which he'll obviously get here, and his odds are.... 100/1 ???
Now there is of course a reason for that. Under rules, he's yet to win beyond 2m5f so he does have obvious stamina doubts over 4m4f (!). However, he did win a three mile point on soft ground, and he was sixth - beaten only twenty lengths - in last year's Ryanair Chase, a much higher class affair than the Grand National... but of course over a much shorter distance.
For small money, Scotsirish is worth a punt at 100/1 (150 on the exchanges).
Dooney's Gate hacked up in the Kilcash Chase last time and, whilst that has no black type status, it was certainly contested by Graded class animals. The second, Northern Alliance, is a Grade 2 winner; third In Compliance, a Grade 1 winner in his younger days; and fourth placed Mossbank is a Grade 2 winner as well.
He didn't seem to be stopping but could also run in the Topham (as could Scotsirish for that matter) over the shorter trip, so bets at this stage should be kept sensible. He's 80/1 in a place but only 33/1 with Coral. If he runs in the National, he will be of some interest. 150+ on the exchanges as well.
Oscar Time, The Midnight Club and Bluesea Cracker are all tied in by Irish form, with Bluesea Cracker seemingly having the best of it at the weights. Oscar Time will bid for an incredible (and presumably unique) double of giving the same amateur rider the Gold Cup - Grand National double, as Sam Waley-Cohen bids to cement his reputation for steering very good horses in very good races after daddy's other acquisition, Long Run, plundered the Gold Cup spoils earlier this month.
But both he (Oscar Time) and The Midnight Club are pretty inexperienced. That said, Oscar Time has the same number of chase runs as both Numbersixvalverde and Hedgehunter - ten - and they won back to back in 2005/6, so it can be done. There's just a niggle in my mind that The Midnight Club might need soft and might be too inexperienced, with only eight chase starts under his saddle girths.
Here's a quick view on why the horses at the top of the betting won't (in my opinion) win...
The Midnight Club - 8/1 is too short for a horse with only eight runs over fences. He's not certain to stay the trip and might need soft ground (which he might get!)
What A Friend - 10/1, probably too much weight (11-06), probably too young (eight), Paul Nicholls record in the race is abominabubble.
Backstage - 12/1, French bred who has never won higher than Class 2 or carrying more weight in a handicap chase that 10-05. He's got 10-12 here and doesn't really deserve it on form. Trainer respected but the horse would be a lay for me.
Oscar Time - 14/1, inexperienced, might need it soft, these fences / this field size will be a lot harder for the boy W-C to cope with than Cheltenham.
Big Fella Thanks - 16/1 in a place, story horse, has got round twice though no closer than 23 lengths from the winner, and no reason to believe that three pounds more weight gives him a better winning chance (won the race at Newbury that he was fourth in this year in his respective preps).
Silver By Nature - 16/1, dotted up in the mud at Haydock, stays well in the mud, never won a chase on better than soft ground and will needs lashings and lashings (and lashings) of rain. Also makes jumping mistakes, though better recently.
Niche Market - 18/1 in a place, former Irish National winner, pulled up in the race last year, not in much form this year though obviously targeted at this race. Champion trainer a negative here.
Ballabriggs - 18/1 in a place, lots of 1's to his name and a Cheltenham win mask the fact that he actually doesn't have much form at the top level. In fact, he hasn't won (or even raced) above Class 2 level in his career. Now he could show improvement of course, but the fact that he's going to be taking on horses two notches higher than he's ever faced before is an insurmountable negative for me.
Don't Push It - 18/1 in a place, last year's winner, could get placed this time as well, but the weight must surely anchor him. Had the same Pertemps Hurdle prep spin this term as last term, but the weight must surely anchor him!
Junior - 20/1, needs 28 to come out in order to even get a run! Only seven chase starts, no wins above Class 2, clearly improving, and a likely contender next year. Not this year for the Junior.
State Of Play - 25/1, not getting any younger (duh!) at eleven now, but fourth and third in the last two years - both when fresh - suggest the course, distance and long absence hold no fears. Off 10-06 he's been given a real chance this term, and looks to be the place horse the bookies fear. Might not be quick/good enough to win, but should give another belting run for the money.
Arbor Supreme - 25/1 in a place, stays well but doesn't jump well! Unseated in this last year, and I wouldn't mind evens he fails to complete again.
Quinz - 25/1 in a place (and 12/1 somewhere else!), 7y0, French-bred novice chaser with just seven starts. Say no more. OK, he was impressive over three miles at Kempton, but this is 50% further and he won't stay and he won't win, and I only hope he doesn't get hurt because he's a very nice horse. Shouldn't be running here. Hopefully won't run here.
Becauseicouldntsee - too young and inexperienced at eight, and with just seven chase starts on the board, but he's a very nice horse who could do well next year.
The rest are 33/1 and bigger. Bluesea Cracker will surely truncate in the betting if she is confirmed for the race, as will Merigo and Notre Pere (if it's soft).
What stands out for you?
Now then, the Geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes entries are still not down. They should be tomorrow I think, and the excitement is mounting here at Geegeez Towers, as we take the show on tour. OK, so we're not actually doing that, but rather just heading over to the Curragh and Dublin for a couple of days of craic, but nevertheless I'm really looking forward to it.
Obviously, sponsoring a race is all about the publicity and that is helped massively if a top horse goesÂ in the race. Last year, Aidan O'Brien ran none other than Fame And Glory in the contest, and anything like that stamp of horse showing up would be a truly momentous occasion.
Whatever happens, I'm thrilled to be sponsoring the race by contributing â‚¬2,000 for the Irish Horse Welfare Trust, making it what's known in the trade as a 'win win' situation. Fantastic.
Oh yes, those kind souls at the Curragh have offered our Irish readers (and indeed anyone else who fancies heading on over) a special two for one entry discount. Just click the image below to open it on its own in a new window, print it out, and show it on the gate to get someone else in free. Better still, get them to pay and then show the voucher and you'll get in free! 😉
Lastly today, a couple of 'any other business' type items.
Item 1) I've added another post to my personal blog at mattbisogno.com - it's nothing to do with horse racing so it might not be of interest. And it's possible it might ruffle a feather or two - surely that's the point?!
Item 2) I'm doing a quick survey of blog readers who have their own businesses. If that's you, and you can spare a whole two minutes of your time, then I'd really appreciate you helping out by clicking here. It's anonymous and your answers could help me to help you. Thanks a lot for your time.