THERE are those who say that the Grand National is now a lot more predictable than it was, and I used to be one of that number until Mon Mome came along in 2009 and won the world’s most famous race at the astonishing odds of 100-1.
He was many of the things a National winner should not be – unfancied, French-bred, had never won beyond 27 furlongs and was, ahem, trained by a woman, the only previous female trainer to win being Jenny Pitman.
Venetia Williams’ charge did brilliantly under Liam Treadwell to win the National, and even though he has won nothing since, Mon Mome is on Aintree’s Roll of Honour, and that’s why I never say anything is guaranteed in the race.
But all three subsequent winners met the criteria for a National possible that I devised after years of studying the race, and have adjusted slightly in recent years.
Ballabriggs, Don’t Push It and Neptune Collonges, winner of last year’s thrilling renewal, were all aged between nine and 11, carried between 10st 7lb and 11st 6lbs, and were between 10/1 and 33/1 on the betting.
As Neptune Collonges was also bred in France we can no longer discount French-bred horses on the old grounds that they would not last the distance.
I always go for safe jumpers, preferably with experience of the National fences, so this year’s race boils down to less than a dozen horses, of which On His Own and Seabass have an outstanding chance, while Rare Bob and last year’s second Sunnyhillboy have really good each-way chances.
On His Own fell in last year’s race while going well on the second circuit, and he has reportedly improved his jumping this year. He is Ruby Walsh’s intended mount, and trainer Willie Mullins could not be in better form. My worry is that he has had only one outing this season, and that over hurdles, but nobody can get them right for a big race like Mullins, as he proved in the National in 2005 with Hedgehunter.
It is another Irish-trained horse which I prefer. Seabass was third last year, beaten five lengths, and he has been given a gentle if thorough preparation by Ted Walsh, winner of the National with Papillon in 2000.
Seabass has gone up in the handicap as a result of last year’s heroics, but significantly he will be 5lbs better off at the weights with Sunnyhillboy, and that’s a big difference over 4m 4f.
Walsh also has Colbert Station in the race and Tony McCoy may well choose him over the other JP McManus-owned entry, Sunnyhillboy.
But I suspect the perennial champion will choose Sunnyhillboy and that is why he is my third selection as a real each-way candidate.
Rare Bob is chosen because he is trained by Dessie Hughes and will have bottom weight or close to it. Again an each-way shot.
Cappa Bleu, Chicago Grey, Teaforthree, Join Together, and Wyck Hill are others that meet my criteria to a greater or lesser degree, but Seabass is my choice to win.