BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE CRABBIE’S GRAND NATIONAL
THIS is the most eagerly awaited Crabbie’s Grand National in years as it is the last time we will see the greatest ever jumps jockey ride in the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Never again will a rider come along like AP McCoy. His guts, determination and sheer addiction to winning have elevated him above his peers. And wouldn’t it just be the perfect send off for him to land his last Grand National and then retire there and then in the Aintree winner’s enclosure?
The soon-to-be 20-time champion jockey hasn’t often shown much emotion during his career, but winning this famous contest in 2010 on Don’t Push It saw him celebrating like never before. It is the biggest race in the world and he would dearly love to win it again.
Racing UK will refund new annual memberships if he does it and he has a decent chance as well. Shutthefrontdoor won last season’s Irish Grand National and he has won his only start since on his seasonal reappearance at Carlisle in November.
Jonjo O’Neill’s eight-year-old suffered a setback during the winter, but this race has been the plan all along and his trainer is a master at preparing staying chasers for their big day.
Betway, who are paying five places on the race, offer a best-priced 15/2 on McCoy’s runner and you can be sure that he will be sent off nearer to 5/1 after punters up and down the country have filled their boots.
However, emotion doesn’t come into it as a punter and he is too short for me in such a competitive race. I’m happy to leave him alone but will celebrate as much as everyone else if the fairytale becomes a reality.
Paul Nicholls has had an incredible season and will be crowned champion trainer for the ninth time at Sandown, alongside McCoy, later this month.
He has had big winners practically every Saturday and it is his ROCKY CREEK who I think has the best chance of winning tomorrow.
Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount ran an absolute cracker in this race 12 months ago, jumping impeccably before tiring late on and finishing fifth. He may have been ridden slightly too prominently then and I imagine Twiston-Davies will bide his time a little more.
He was only eight last year, an age bracket that has a bad record in this race, and now that he is a year older and stronger, he should have all the weapons he needs for this brutal test.
The 11 stone mark used to be an insurmountable barrier, but four of the last six winners carried 11 stone or more so I’m not worried about his burden of 11st3lb at all.
In fact, he is very attractively weighted following his romp at Kempton in February after the National weights had been published.
If the handicapper could re-assess him he would be carrying top weight so if he’s ever going to win the big one, this year is probably it.
The 9/1 with Betway isn’t huge but he reminds me very much of Hedgehunter, who won this in 2005, and I think he will go very close.
My next selection is ALVARADO who finished one place in front of Rocky Creek last year. His jockey Paul Moloney has a brilliant record over these fences and will probably be the first to admit that he gave his mount too much to do that day.
He has been trained with this race in mind all season and was given an easy time of it on his reappearance at Doncaster in February. Fergal O’Brien’s horses are in decent form and this 10-year-old has a lovely racing weight of 10st3lb.
There is a nagging doubt that he might not be quite good enough to win it, but he looks a very solid option to finish in the frame.
FIRST LIEUTENANT is a horse I’ve followed for practically all of his career and, although he isn’t the force of old, he has now slipped to a competitive mark for trainer Mouse Morris and jockey Nina Carberry.
Rated as high as 170 in the past, he is now down to 153, and he has excellent course form having won the Grade One Bowl here two years ago.
He loves decent ground and has always had a touch of class which I think is a big help in this race. In fairness, he has been very disappointing this season and he may just have fallen out of love with the game.
But I just have a feeling that Morris has targeted him at this race and he wouldn’t have to improve much to be competitive. See if you can get some 33/1 as that is a fair each-way price.
My final pick is another horse who likes it round here. SAINT ARE has only won three races in Britain but two of them have come at this meeting.
He won a Grade One hurdle in 2011 when trained by Tim Vaughan and then followed up in a Listed handicap chase the following season.
He finished ninth in the National two years ago when only seven, but I would expect him to do better than that this time.
He is now trained by Tom George and finished third in three competitive handicaps, including the Becher Chase, before bolting up at Catterick.
He’s another who will like decent ground and the 33/1 with Betway is worth taking.
BILL ESDAILE’S NATIONAL 1-2-3-4
1 Rocky Creek
3 First Lieutenant
4 Saint Are