The Aintree Grand National is almost upon us and the betting for the April 8th marathon is taking shape with the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge just heading a compact market at a best priced 11/1.
Last year Irish trainer Mouse Morris reigned supreme at Aintree as 33/1 shot Rule The World carried rookie jockey David Mullins to a memorable success.
The winner was subsequently retired but Vieux Lion Rouge, who was seventh that day, is back for more after showcasing his credentials in two carefully plotted prep runs this season. He gained more experience of the National fences when winning the Becher Chase at Aintree in December but it was his battling performance to beat Blaklion by three-and-a-quarter-lengths in Haydock's National Trial that put him top of the markets.
Vieux Lion Rouge jumps well, stays all day and is well handicapped plus he is still only a young horse at eight. It is not hard to see why he is such a popular choice and punters will recall that Pond House handler Pipe handled similar expectations when Comply Or Die went off joint-favourite and won the race in 2008.
Haydock runner-up Blaklion, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, is currently trading at around 14/1 for the big race. The Naunton handler has enlisted the services of Noel Fehily to ride at Aintree, fresh off a superb Cheltenham Festival. Twiston-Davies has of course saddled both Earth Summit and Bindaree to win the great race in the past.
He turned to Fehily with son Sam Twiston-Davies already slotted in to ride 20/1 chance Saphir Du Rheu for champion trainer and boss Paul Nicholls. Team Ditcheat won this contest in a thriller with Neptune Collonges in 2012 and have a number of realistic hopes again this year but there is no mistaking the increased confidence surrounding the Andy Stewart-owned eight-year-old Saphir Du Rheu in light of his impressive run behind Sizing John in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Last year’s Scottish National winner Vicente (25/1) and the progressive young chaser Le Mercurey (50/1)are two more worthy of consideration at good prices from the Nicholls contingent.
Trainer Gordon Elliott enjoyed a wonderful week at the Cheltenham Festival to finish as top trainer and the Irishman, who burst to prominence with Silver Birch winning the Grand National in 2007, is likely to have Festival winner Cause Of Causes, at 16/1, leading his assault this time around. Elliott also has Ucello Conti (who finished ahead of Vieux Lion Rouge last year) in the mix and, given the season his yard is enjoying, he should not be underestimated at 20/1 in the betting.
Runner-up in the race last year, The Last Samuri is 16/1 to go one better now for trainer Kim Bailey. He's enjoyed a nice preparation again, though he was soundly beaten at Doncaster recently by Definitly Red (12/1) and his trainer Brian Ellison is another who has been bullish in the countdown to the World’s greatest steeplechase.