BHA Handicapper, Phil Smith, has done his worst (or best in some cases) and the trainers can do no more, the weights for the 2016 Crabbie’s Grand National have been announced. The who’s who of National Hunt racing were there to examine the allotted weights given to their horses, we take a look at some of the most interesting contenders.
One horse that immediately jumps off the page is the Jonjo O’Neill trained Holywell, who has been given the task of carrying 10-12 around the National course. A Grade 1 winner at the track when destroying Gold Cup contender Don Cossack and last year’s National victor Many Clouds in the Mildmay Novices Chase in 2014. That form made him a highly regarded horse during last term, but it did not really work out for him, being beaten in his first two races before sluicing up in a mickey mouse event at Kelso in February. However, his game 4th in the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup beaten less than 10 lengths by Coneygree is what excites most observers, since a replication of that form could see him make a mockery out of his 10-12 allocation.
Trained by a man who knows how to get one to run well in the Grand National – O’Neill won the race with Don’t Push It in 2011 – he could easily run a big race, that has been shown by the early gamble on him following publication of the weights. With one bookmakers plunging his price from a very backable 33/1 down to 16\1 second favourite, although the 33s is still available with Ladbrokes. Without question, Holywell is the pre-National ante post gamble.
At 33/1, another likely contender is The Last Samuri. An expensive purchase by Paul and Claire Rooney from the Point to Point world, he was until recently under the stewardship of Donald McCain Jnr who regarded this horse as the ideal type for the Grand National. An opinion like that from a member of a Grand National dynasty is what first caught my attention. Despite being moved southwards to the yard of Kim Bailey before the start of the season, he has since improved leaps and bounds. Beaten into 3rd in Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase in November on his first run of the year, this has turned out to be one of the hottest handicaps run this season. Since the first two home, Wakanda and Virak, have run spectacularly in subsequent handicaps this season, with the former winning a Listed event at Ascot and latter finishing in the places of two similarly strong handicaps. Bailey reported The Last Samuri to be in need of the run that day, therefore getting within 7 lengths of two some of the best handicap performers of the year who were race fit was no mean feat.
The improvement promised by Kim Bailey was seen next time out at Kempton’s Winter Festival, when The Last Samuri rattled home to score a Class 2 Handicap over 3 miles. He showed relentless stamina that day mowing down front-runners who had appeared to steal the race. Unsurprisingly, the target of the Grand National was declared immediately after the race by his trainer and he has not been seen since in an effort to preserve his mark for the National.
Upon being given a promising weight of 10-08, Bailey is reported to rate his horse as having ‘an outstanding chance’ in the National, some of the media present at today’s Weights Launch suggested he took a much more bullish tone off the record with comparison’s to his 1990 Grand National winner Mr Frisk being drawn. Quotes of 33/1 from most bookmakers make The Last Samuri a cracking bet for the Grand National, he is scheduled to run in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster in the coming weeks, a good run there would see his price tumble very quickly.
Finally, the chances of 2015 second Saint Are have been done no harm by being given a weight of 10-05, which is an incredible 1 pound lower than what he raced off in last year’s renewal. He relished the Grand National challenge last year, jumping boldly at most fences although he made a few mistakes on his way round (most significantly at Becher’s 2nd time round) that may just have stopped him winning. In fact, Paddy Brennan appeared to be sitting pretty with two fences to go, as he glanced between his legs multiple times looking for any potential challengers. Alas it transpired he could not reel in Many Clouds on the run in, but for only his 5th start for Tom George the run was highly promising.
He has had two runs this year, one at Cheltenham over the Cross-Country course and one at Aintree in the Grand National trail, the Becher Chase. Both times he finished down the field, which means his record is not as glossy as last year in which he arrived on the back of a victory. However, this does not put me off, as his glut of good performances prior to the National last season were an attempt to launch him up the ratings and get him into the Grand National itself, whereas this year his participation is all but secured and Tom George can concentrate on bringing his horse along slowly whilst being aimed at the big day in April.
The main concern around Saint Are’s chances this year centres around the record of placed horses in the previous year’s Grand National. They notoriously have a dire record in trying to improve their placing and win the National the following year, but in most cases these placed horses are met with massive weight rises that means they are never as well handicapped as their first attempt. This is not true for Saint Are who has the benefit of an extra season under the stewardship of Tom George, who can hopefully eke out more improvement and a lower weight than last year. Therefore, the 33/1 about Saint Are offers a great each-way chance for the National at this early stage.
2pts E/W – Holywell (33/1 Ladbrokes)
2pts E/W – The Last Samuri (33/1 Ladbrokes)
1pt E/W – Saint Are (25/1 Various)