5 Fancied Contenders For 2018 Grand National
The world’s greatest steeplechase will soon be upon us once again as the 2018 Grand National take centre stage at Aintree racecourse on Saturday, 14 April.
This extended 4m 2f slog remains the ultimate test for National Hunt horses’ endurance and one of the most difficult events to win in racing. It’s the one day of the year where the wider British public get on and take a punt.
A glance at the 2018 Grand National betting highlights how this season’s renewal looks as wide open as ever. While you can expect the bookies to provide enticing offers and extra places galore, which horses are fancied for the Aintree showpiece this time around?
We take a look at five who feature prominently in the market and explain to you why. All hold entries at the Cheltenham Festival and could race at both events because there is an unprecedented 29-day gap between the Gold Cup and Grand National.
Whatever else he has taken in en route, another crack at the Aintree marathon has always been the plan for connections of 2016 RSA Chase winner Blaklion.
Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, who saddled previous Grand National winners Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002), the nine-year-old was fourth in the 2017 running. His jockey in last year’s contest, Noel Fehily, arguably took up the running too early and lost third towards the line.
In three starts this season, however, Blaklion hasn’t finished outside the first two. A runner-up to Bristol De Mai on reappearance in the 3m Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, he then earned victory over the Grand National fences with a course win in the 3m 2f Becher Chase back in December.
There is no substitute for Aintree experience, especially tackling those unique obstacles, but to prevent any winter rust from forming, connections gave Blaklion a further prep run. That came in the Grand National Trial at the other Merseyside jumps track Haydock in February.
Although well-beaten, Blaklion was one of just three to complete this stern test over three-and-a-half miles on bottomless ground. It would’ve felt like further on heavy Haydock going. Bookmakers pushed his price out slightly for the Grand National after that 54 lengths defeat by Yala Enki, but conditions ought to be decidedly better underfoot at Aintree come mid-April.
Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins has also landed the Grand National before with Hedgehunter in 2005 and his best chance this year, according to the betting, is Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall.
Like Blaklion this fellow nine-year-old holds a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry, yet is unbeaten in three starts since joining Mullins. Total Recall took the Munster National on debut for the yard back in October before snatching that valuable Newbury handicap formerly known as the Hennessy from the grasp of Nicky Henderson’s Whisper.
A winning spin over hurdles at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in early February blew away any winter cobwebs that Total Recall may have had. Mullins has never won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, believe it or not, so it’s not completely clear whether that or the Grand National is the priority.
Racing off a career high mark and official BHA chase rating of 156 reflects both the great strides this horse has made since leaving Sandra Hughes, and how the British handicapper fears Irish raiders of his profile. Total Recall is also the same age as Hedgehunter was when he won the Grand National.
Mullins look unlikely to turn up at Aintree single-handed though. Total Recall’s stablemates Acapella Bourgeois, Bellshill, Pleasant Company and Rathvinden are all guaranteed to get in to the 40-runner Grand National field if taking up their engagement.
We had a Scottish trained winner of the Grand National in 2017, but if there’s to be a British victor from north of Birmingham this time, Definitly Red looks the most likely.
Trained by Brian Ellison near Malton in North Yorkshire, the nine-year-old endured nothing but bad luck in last year’s race. Definitly Red got badly hampered at the sixth of 30 fences and never recovered from it, as jockey Danny Cook pulled him up less than a third of the way round Aintree because his saddle had slipped.
He was a ready winner of the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby and Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster en route to the 2017 Grand National. This season, meanwhile, Definitly Red was a distant third behind Bristol De Mai and Blaklion on his return to action in the Charlie Hall, but then landed consecutive Grade 2 contests at Aintree and Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day.
That latter success in the Cotswold Chase has prompted connections to seriously consider going for the Cheltenham Gold Cup before the Grand National. It’s a tall order and Definitly Red looks more likely to take up both engagements than Blaklion.
In order to defeat that re-opposing rival in a race that saps stamina like no other, Definitly Red has to find something. He will also have to carry top weight at Aintree, but has shown he can deliver in elite company and is 2lb well in there off 165 when his official rating is 167.
Cause Of Causes
Last year’s runner-up Cause Of Causes inevitably commands respect from a betting perspective. His trainer Gordon Elliott took the 2007 renewal when saddling Silver Birch to Grand National glory.
Owned by legendary Irish gambler JP McManus, 10-year-old Cause Of Causes is something of a Cheltenham Festival expert. He won the Cross Country Chase before going on to Aintree last year and scored previous Prestbury Park plaudits in the 2016 Kim Muir and 2015 National Hunt Chase over a gruelling 4m.
All three of his Cheltenham victories have come with top Irish amateur jockey Jamie Codd aboard, so expect them to reprise the partnership first at this year’s Festival. Cause Of Causes is set to defend his Cross Country crown over 3m 6f before a third crack at the Grand National in four seasons.
He has completed the course on both previous occasions at Aintree, which isn’t surprising, given his obvious staying credentials. Cause Of Causes could well make it third time lucky as he races off just 3lb higher than last year, but it looks like translating to a very similar weight.
Doubling up at Cheltenham and then the Grand National didn’t prove too demanding 12 months ago, though it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the Cross Country contest. An extra few days more of rest between assignments than last year may be all Cause Of Causes needs. And, with the leading bookies providing so many free offers, such as Paddy Power's £20 risk-free bet, he may well be worth a gamble. A look at Oddschecker's ante post betting comparisons confirms that, should he win, backers could be looking at a favourable return.
The Last Samuri
And finally, another one-time Grand National runner-up in The Last Samuri cannot be discounted, because of his vast course experience. This 10-year-old has placed in two runnings of the Becher Chase besides his 2016 second in the big race.
Owned by Paul and Clare Rooney and trained by Kim Bailey, The Last Samuri is aimed at the Grand National for a third time in his career to date. Last year, he had to shoulder top weight but still completed the course.
Providing higher rated rivals stand their ground, he will get into this season’s renewal more favourably. In the meantime, The Last Samuri has Cross County and Cheltenham Gold Cup entries for connections to choose between.
As he is much more fancied in the betting for the former that may indicate where he will go before Aintree if anywhere. The Last Samuri has had just one career run at Cheltenham, which was last time out when finishing fourth to Definitly Red in the Cotswold, so he could swerve the Festival altogether and focus solely on Grand National glory at the third time of asking.
There is a last chance saloon feel about this attempt for The Last Samuri. He is certainly capable of making the frame, as his previous Aintree form when not under a welter burden suggests. Grand National betting is also about finding each-way value, and The Last Samuri is certainly that.