The weights for the £1million Randox Health Grand National were revealed in London on Tuesday and Geoffrey Riddle canvassed connections for the inside track on their proposed runners for the world's most valuable chase.
By Geoffrey Riddle
Gordon Elliott is likely to run no more than five of his 10 entries:
Gordon Elliott was pretty matter of fact as to how many of his phalanx of entries he would be looking to run on April 14.
His team will consist of no more than Cause Of Causes, who was second last year, Ucello Conti, Tiger Roll, Noble Endeavor and possibly the veteran Bless The Wings.
Cause Of Causes, who was cut by bookmakers from a high of 33-1 in to 25-1 and 20-1 in places throughout Tuesday, and Tiger Roll will head to the Cheltenham Festival next month for the Cross Country Chase, while Ucello Conti will head straight to Aintree.
Noble Endeavor has not run this season and will ‘definitely’ have a prep in Ireland over fences before taking his chance.
Elliott was fairly clear that Outlander, who pushed Edwulf so close at the Dublin Racing Festival, would head to the Punchestown Gold Cup.
Blaklion will be ridden differently and is a little like Red Rum:
It is quite clear how much Nigel Twiston-Davies loves Blaklion. The trainer remembers watching Red Rum win the Grand National on a grainy television in the 1970s and likened last year’s National fourth to the Merseyside legend.
Blaklion (11st 6lb), who is the 12-1 favourite with Betfair, finished eight lengths adrift of One For Arthur in last year’s National, having led at the 26th fence before being bumped by the eventual winner. He then faded badly.
Twiston-Davies was quick to point out that although Noel Fehily was not to blame, this time around the nine-year-old will be held up for longer.
“He’ll be ridden differently,” Twiston-Davies huffed. “No blame on Noel at all, but he kicked on a mile from home. If we don’t kick on a mile from home then that eight lengths can be found.”
Twiston-Davies confirmed that Blaklion would take up his engagement in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock on Saturday before underlining his admiration for the Becher Chase winner. He even believes he is more suited to the challenge than his two previous winners.
“He’s a bit like Red Rum,” he said.
“He’s small and very neat over his fences. Twice he’s been round there, he doesn’t seem to make a mistake, and is agile and nips around horses who have fallen ahead of him. He’s a clever little horse.
“He doesn’t compare to any of them. At this stage he is more natural than the others. Earth Summit was a real slogger, and Bindaree was a very talented horse but didn’t try that hard. He was clever on his way around.”
Twiston-Davies also has Bristol De Mai entered, but confirmed the Betway Bowl would be the target for the grey.
“The owners don’t want to run,” he said. “I’m paid to do what they want. They definitely might have a go next year.”
Flying Angel and Double Ross could also go, but Cogry and Splash Of Ginge are unlikely to make the cut.
Minella Rocco is still a possible:
Last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup second is still a contender for the Grand National but has to improve on his jumping.
Minella Rocco (11st 7lb) has been fairly listless in four runs since.
At Tuesday's Grand National press conference Jonjo O’Neill appeared to be mystified as to why his primary contender cannot put in a decent performance, but the suspicion is that the Jackdaws Castle brigade are merely waiting for the spring festivals.
“He’s going for the Gold Cup and it is four weeks after that so we’ll see if he is still alive,” O’Neill said.
“He’s been disappointing and he is not as economical as we would like him to be. He needs to be a little more consistent, really.
“I have no idea why he can’t string it together. He gets plenty of schooling. If the ground was good he’d go around.”
O’Neill is dual handed and could also saddle Go Conquer.
“I am trying to win races with him,” he added.
Minella Rocco is no better than 25-1 with Betfair.
“He’s in on Saturday at Ascot [Keltbray Swinley Chase but if the ground was on the soft side we’d probably pull him and he’d go on to Cheltenham.”
Anything Willie Mullins considers has a chance will run:
Willie Mullins, who struck with Hedgehunter in 2005, has entered 10 runners and, in theory, at last seven of those could turn up.
Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall (pictured) has been burdened with 11st 1lb, while the likes of Abre De Vie (9st 11lb), Pairofbrowneyes (9st 10lb) and Bravissimo (9st 5lb) are all likely to miss out.
“With over 11st is going to be very hard,” Patrick Mullins, assistant trainer, said. “Only two horses in the last four years have finished in the first four but he has an improving profile that makes him very interesting.
“He is fantastic jumper, handles big handicaps and should stay. It is just going to be hard to go win two handicaps in one season.
“When he ran in the Munster National we thought he was much better than his rating and since the Ladbrokes Trophy the National has been on the horizon.
“He’s entered in the Gold Cup but the Bobbyjo Chase is a lucky race to prep for the Grand National.
"He is not simple horse to ride – you saw that at Leopardstown and he is ridden in a head collar at home.”
Mullins also could run Bellshill (10st 7lb), who is back in full training but has only run over fences four times, and one of those was a fall, while Pleasant Company (10st 7lb) and Polidam (10st 5lb) are lively dark horses.
“He’ll get in at the bottom and was running a great race until he made a bad mistake last year,” Mullins said of Pleasant Company.
“He’s been very disappointing this year and would like spring ground. I know he won a Bobbyjo Chase but that was more a fantastic ride from Ruby [Walsh]. The handicapper has job so we will have to work around it.”
Plodam was sent to County Carlow with the Grand National in mind but needs to put it all together.
“He has been a bit hit and miss,” Mullins admitted. “He was a little disappointing at Leopardstown and was staying on at the end. Noel Fehily felt he got a bit too far back early on. The trip would be an unknown, but again he has a very eye-catching weight.”
Bailey happy with The Last Samuri weight:
The Last Samuri is ninth in the Randox Health Grand National weights' list with 11st 4lb and a rating of 159.
Trained by Kim Bailey in Gloucestershire for owners Paul and Clare Rooney, The Last Samuri finished second behind Rule The World in the 2016 running of the world's greatest chase and came home 16th of the 19 finishers last year.
The 10-year-old, runner-up behind Blaklion in the Becher Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree earlier this season, was last seen out when a good fourth in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on January 27.
Bailey, who tasted Grand National glory with Mr Frisk in 1990, said: "The Last Samuri's weight is what we were expecting given his rating.
"If the weights stay as they are and don't rise, I think he would have more of a chance.
"I have been very happy with him since Cheltenham and he will have a prep race somewhere between now and Aintree.
"We have got several options, but there are no firm plans as we will have to see what the weather does first.
"The Last Samuri doesn't need to have a prep race, but we are lining up to have one at the moment."