Andy Newton takes a look at how the big stables are heading into this week’s 3-day Aintree Grand National Meeting.
PAUL NICHOLLS (10 winners from his last 18 runners, 55% strike-rate): Leads the trainers’ title race (£2,279,681), but only by the skin of his teeth and with Henderson looking to have a stronger squad heading to Aintree, not to mention a leading chance in the big one with Shakalakaboomboom, then I suspect Nicholls could be fighting a losing battle. That said, the Dicheat handler could not be heading to Liverpool in much better form and as we all know horses that ran well at Cheltenham don’t always translate the form to Liverpool – Nicholls will be hoping that’s the case for all of Henderson’s big winners last month. Big Buck’s will, of course, be a virtual banker for the yard in Thursday’s Liverpool Hurdle, a race he’s won for the past three seasons, and his Champion Hurdle winner, Rock On Ruby, will be popular in Saturday’s Aintree Hurdle, as will Al Ferof in the Manifesto on the opening day, but with no Kauto, Denman or Master Minded in attendance this year despite having plenty of others running there are no other real standouts. With 125 winners for the season they are looking likely to surpass last season’s tally of 134, but beating their best-ever total of 155 might be pushing it.
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 22 from 154 (14%), Chase: 11 from 88 (13%), Hurdle: 10 from 56 (18%), NH Flat: 1 from 10 (10%)
NICKY HENDERSON (4 winners from his last 27 runners 15% strike-rate): Yes, he’s not had his star names on show in recent weeks as they’ve all been put away for Aintree, but some might still look at his figures and think they are a shade worrying with only 4 winners from their last 27 - that might give the Nicholls camp a tiny bit of hope. However, I would personally treat these recent stats with a pinch of salt and I’ll be very surprised if, just like Cheltenham, the Seven Barrows camp doesn’t have plenty of successes this week. With £2,263,726 banked this season this is already their best-ever in terms of prize money and despite being slightly behind Nicholls they are odds on to leap-frog them over the next few days – while if Shakalakaboomboom lands the National, then it really is all over! In terms of sheer winners they are now 151 for the season and need just 3 more to make this their best ever-winning season. Their big hopes will be Riverside Theatre and Burton Port in the Betfred Bowl on Thursday, Finian’s Rainbow in the Melling Chase on Wednesday and then Sprinter Sacre, Oscar Whisky and Simonsig, who are all in action on Saturday before the National.
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 16 from 111 (14%), Chase: 6 from 40 (15%), Hurdle: 8 from 55 (15%), NH Flat: 2 from 16 (13%)
DAVID PIPE (5 winners from his last 20 runners, 25% strike-rate): The Pond House team have landed the National twice before – once under David and once under Martin – and in Junior they look to have a real chance of adding to that tally. This versatile sort, who has even won a race at Royal Ascot, has had the National as his target ever since winning the 2010 Kim Muir – and let’s not forget last year’s GN winner,
Ballabriggs also won that Cheltenham race the season before landing the biggest prize in National Hunt racing. The only negative might be that he’s only had 8 career starts over fences, but he jumps very well and would have been extensively schooled over National-style fences at home during his preparation, plus the form of his recent second at Doncaster is working out very well indeed with the winner going in again. With 93 winners for the season the Pipe team have been quietly going about their business, but if there is a slight worry it’s that they’ve only bagged 5 winners from their last 78 runners at Aintree.
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 5 from 78 (6%), Chase: 3 from 38 (8%), Hurdle: 2 from 36 (6%), NH Flat: 0 from 4
DONALD McCAIN (6 winners from his last 25 runners, 24% strike-rate): Last year’s winning Grand National stable will be hoping for another magical time in Liverpool and in Ballabriggs and Weird Al they look to hold every chance of that happening. That said, as we all know the last horse to win back-to-back Nationals was Red Rum back in the 70’s and with a 10lb rise in the weights this time I suspect a place might be the best last year’s winner can hope for. Weird Al ran a poor race in the Gold Cup, when quietly fancied, but he reportedly bled that day and if you go back to his third in the Betfair Chase behind Kauto Star and Long Run earlier this season then he’s interesting, especially with Timmy Murphy, who’s won the Merseyside Marathon before, on his back. With 142 winners for the year they actually only have Henderson in front of them in that respect, and for such a big yard to also be showing a +£27 level stakes profit for the season is another big feat. They left their mark at the Cheltenham Festival last month and with the quality of their horses improving each year they are now a big force at all the major meetings through the year.
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 11 from 120 (9%), Chase: 2 from 27 (7%), Hurdle: 9 from 75 (12%), NH Flat: 0 from 18
WILLIE MULLINS (3 winners from his last 28 runners, 11% strike-rate): Didn’t quite have the Cheltenham that many expected with Hurricane Fly being the main disappointment, but, that said, they still fired in winners and are always feared at the big meetings. Hedgehunter was a winner in the Grand National for them back in 2005 and at this stage they have three in the race – On His Own, The Midnight Club and Quiscover Fontaine. The first-named will be popular with Ruby taking the ride, but don’t forget that it was only 12 months ago that The Midnight Club was being sent off favourite for the National and he actually did well to finish sixth after being hampered four out. Looking at the form of the yard, some might think they are in a tiny lean spell with only two winners at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting recently, but, as we all know, you rule this big yard out at your own peril. Away from the National they could also have Thousand Stars running in Saturday’s Aintree Hurdle again after finishing a close second in the race 12 months ago, while Apt Approach looks to have a live chance in Friday’s Topham Chase. Finally, a word of caution and if you want a knockout stat – did you know the Mullins team have not had an Aintree winner at all in the past 5 seasons?
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 0 from 23, Chase: 0 from 16, Hurdle: 0 from 2, NH Flat: 0 from 5
JONJO O’NEILL (1 winner from his last 16 runners, 6% strike-rate): All eyes will be on whether Gold Cup winner Synchronised can add the Grand National to his CV on Saturday and with AP riding and this year’s race looking likely to be a real stamina test then he’s sure to go off favourite. However, he will have that hefty weight trend to overcome as no horse has won with 11-10 or more since Red Rum, while the last horse to do the Gold Cup/National double in the same season was Golden Miller back in 1934. If you add in that we’ve only seen one Cheltenham Festival winner from the same season go onto land the big race then despite being well-fancied there are plenty of things for him to overcome. Get Me Out Of Here was a nice winner for the yard over at Fairyhouse in the week, so despite that being their only winner recently that’s a sign the big names at the yard remain in good form, while don’t forget they will also have Alberta’s Run going for the Melling Chase on Friday, a race he won back in 2010. With 95 winners for the year they need just 5 more to hit the ton, but are still a long way off their best ever for a season – with that being 126 (2006-07).
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 10 from 86 (12%), Chase: 5 from 39 (13%), Hurdle: 5 from 39 (13%), NH Flat: 0 from 8
ALAN KING (7 winners from their last 33 runners, 21% strike-rate): Didn’t have the best of times at Cheltenham, after being tipped for a big four days, but a win for West End Rocker in the National on Saturday would certainly erase those memories. The rain has come just in time for him and he’s been one of the best-backed horses in recent days. He was brought down 12 months ago in the race, so will need a bit more luck, but a win in the Becher Chase back in December showed that he acts over these unique fences – and that’s a huge plus. If there is some negative’s it would be that he’s been raised 12lbs for that win, hasn’t run since, and finally, we’ve never seen a horse win both the Becher and National in the same season. Medermit (Bowl) and Grumeti (Matalan Hurdle) are others to look out for, while Smad Place, who was third in the World Hurdle, will be hoping to end Big Buck’s dominance in the Liverpool Hurdle on the opening day. In terms of track starts they do have impressive figures with their chasers here with 6 of their last 23 going in – good news for Medermit and West End Rocker!
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 13 from 104 (13%), Chase: 6 from 23 (26%), Hurdle: 7 from 63 (11%), NH Flat: 0 from 18
Trainer To Look Out For At Aintree – PETER BOWEN: Okay, so the Bowen camp have not had a winner for 74 days and are now 71 horses without success too, but they do seem to save their best for this meeting. For example the Welsh handler has landed Friday’s Topham Chase with Always Waining for the past two seasons and back in 2007 and will he high on many people’s shortlist to do so again – keep an eye on anything the yard run, especially in the handicaps, while they are also currently boasting an impressive +£111 level stakes profit with all their runners at Aintree over the past 5 years.
Aintree 5 Year Track Stats – Overall: 18 from 111 (16%), Chase: 6 from 50 (12%), Hurdle: 10 from 51 (20%), NH Flat: 2 from 10 (20%)