With just around one month to wait until the National Hunt’s equine Olympics takes place at Cheltenham, after that four-day meeting is completed, the focus will then switch towards Aintree’s three-day showpiece, with the obvious highlight being the iconic Grand National of 2016.
An event that captivates the nation for the roughly nine or ten minutes – ground depending – it takes to race, Saturday 9th April is the date, and with lots of time before the race takes place, there is still plenty of value to be had for Europe’s richest jumps event.
In this preview, we will look at some of the contenders for this years’ renewal to try and pinpoint some likely protagonists for the blue riband event.
An obvious starting point has to be with last years’ winner, Many Clouds – trained by Oliver Sherwood. Unlike most National winners of recent history, the nine year-old gelding hasn’t been wrapped-up in cotton wool or ran over hurdles to protect his chase rating mark, but has been active in some high-profile races this season. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, Many Clouds has finished behind the likes of Cue Card, Smad Place and Don Poli this season, with the Aintree event always being his main target. After carrying 11-9 to victory last April, a welter burden is unlikely to cause too many issues for the son of Cloudings, and the current odds of around 10/1 look relatively fair for a horse with very solid credentials.
Looking back twelve months would have shown Shutthefrontdoor as the ante-post market leader for the 2015 event. After a fifth-place finish last year, and the prospect of a few extra pounds in weight reversal with Many Clouds, the Jonjo O’Neill trained nine year-old could be of some each-way value at around 25/1. An obvious plus is that Shutthefrontdoor has jumped and finished the National course – was in second place until fading two out – and with the likely urgings of Barry Geraghty in the saddle, the JP McManus owned gelding is most definitely a horse for the shortlist.
Irish super-trainer, Willie Mullins is hoping to be champion trainer this side of the water, as well as dominating in his native country, and it will come as no surprise that he has several National entries at this early stage. According to the bookmakers, his best hope currently lies with Don Poli with the seven year-old’s chances currently rated at around 25/1. Owned by the powerful Gigginstown House Stud, Don Poli has always looked like a horse with unlimited stamina as his impressive RSA Chase win at last years’ Cheltenham Festival proved. Currently entered for a crack at the Gold Cup next month, Don Poli would have to buck a trend going back to 1940, that no seven year-old or younger has won the Grand National.
Fast emerging trainer Kerry Lee has recently shown the expertise to produce horses for the big day, and her Welsh National winner Mountainous is on course for a crack at the Aintree showpiece. After becoming the first horse since Bonanza Boy to win the Chepstow marathon twice back in 1989, the 11 year-old has some unfinished business with the Liverpool track. A faller at Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit back in 2014 – his only mishap in 24 races under rules, Mountainous is a horse that has proven stamina, and if the going was to be more testing than soft, the current odds of 33/1 would look like fantastic value.
A dark horse to keep an eye on is the Paul Nicholls trained Unioniste. The eight-year old gelding out of Dom Alco also came to grief in last years’ race, but has time on his side to comeback from the experience. The owner/trainer partnership of John Hales and Nicholls has previously tasted success in the National as Neptune Collonges won four years ago, and with a likely more lenient mark to race from in this campaign, Unioniste is one to have on side at around 50/1.