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The Randox Health Grand National is the greatest horserace in the world and we now know that soft or indeed heavy ground will be the order of the day at Aintree on Saturday afternoon although a dry day is forecast.
It is harder to carry big weights over such an extreme distance on soft ground and after much deliberation the each way nod goes to Vieux Lion Rouge (5.15) who has finished seventh and sixth in the race for the last two years and won the Becher Chase here a couple of seasons ago.
The selection – 25/1 – (remember we are paying each way 6 places) is trained by David Pipe who saddled Comply Or Die to win the corresponding race in 2008 and was last seen when a staying on fourth at Ascot over three miles back in February.
The yard have had a quiet season to date, but did have a couple of welcome winners earlier in the week. The selection, now a 9-year-old, jumps well, stays, acts on soft ground and carries less than 11stone. You always need your fair share of luck in the National and I just hope Vieux Lion Rouge has more than most this afternoon.
Baie Des Isles is a seven-year-old grey mare ridden by Katie Walsh and trained in Ireland by her husband Ross O’Sullivan – she has been the best-backed horse this week – at 14/1 – and she could make history. No seven-year-old has won the race since Bogscar in 1940, no mare has won the race since Teal in 1951 and no female jockey has ever won the race – until now.
Houblon Des Obeaux – 33/1 – is another I have backed each way and confidence has grown in recent days with the return to form of the Venetia Williams yard who won the corresponding race back in 2009 courtesy of 100/1 shot Mon Mome.
The card opens with a three-mile handicap hurdle and Debece (1.45) has not seen the track since finishing third in a Grade 1 here 12 months ago but can go well fresh and gets the each way vote at 10/1 .
The first Grade 1 contest on the card is the two-and-a-half mile Novice Hurdle and I will reluctantly oppose the Tom George-trained favourite Black Op with ongoing concerns about the form of the yard.
Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation – 14/1 – beat Black Op at Newbury earlier in the season and should appreciate the step up in trip but the vote goes to On The Blind Side (2.25) who missed Cheltenham but had looked a quality novice winning all three starts earlier in the campaign.
The Nicky Henderson trained novice looked a potential star when winning at Sandown in Grade 2 company back in December although that may not have been the strongest race for the grade. The selection is 9/4 and is unproven on soft ground under rules but did win his point under similar conditions and remains unbeaten.
Arkle runner up Petit Mouchoir is odds on (8/15) to win the 2m Novice Chase and is a worthy favourite but I will be supporting the mare Lady Buttons (3.00) each way or in the betting without the favourite. The selection comes in at 11/2 and was impressive at Newcastle last time – albeit in a much lesser race – and receives 7lbs sex allowance.
Thomas Patrick jumped superbly at Newbury last time and must go close in the 3m Handicap Chase but he is just 9/2 and is 8lbs higher than last time. Rocklander would have been the selection but for reasons given earlier, the Tom George inmate is overlooked and Irish raider Paper Lantern (3.40) gets the each way vote at 11/1 .
The 9-year-old won well on soft ground at Fairyhouse in first-time blinkers earlier in the month and if the headgear works the oracle, again he must go close off just 10st 1lb including his jockey’s allowance.
I hope Joe Colliver gets the fractions right on Sam Spinner (4.20) in the Liverpool Hurdle having not made sufficient use of his mount’s stamina when finishing fifth in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. This is something of a retrieval mission for the six-year-old who had looked a most progressive and top-class staying hurdler earlier in the campaign.
The finale is a 2m Handicap Hurdle for conditional and amateur jockeys and I hope the lightly-raced Michael’s Mount (6.20) can score for Ian Williams with the talented James Bowen excellent value for his 3lbs claim.
Vieux Lion Rouge 28/1
On The Blind Side 9/4
Lady Buttons 11/2
Paper Lantern 11/1
Sam Spinner 6/4
Michael’s Mount 5/1