In the olden days people used say anything could win the Grand National, but the reality was rather different. The race used to feature a host of horses out of their class, while the top-weights carried too much lead and the big fences used to catch out anything but the most sure-footed of jumpers.
In the 20 years between 1988 and 2007 14 of the winners were sent off at shorter than 20/1 meaning, in a 40-runner field, they were near the head of the betting market. However, there is more than a ring of truth about the saying now as the huge increase in prize money, the handicapper's attempt to make it a level playing field and the taming of the fences has had the desired effect of making it a much more open contest.
Since 2007 there have been two winning favourites, but also scorers at 25/1 (twice) 33/1 (twice), 66/1 and 100/1 – so don't let anyone put you off if you fancy something at huge odds.
In the days running up to the Randox Health-backed race the bookmakers will do their best to squeeze the value out of the market by reporting support for a number of horses and shortening their odds. If you want to back anything near the head of the market, you would be wise to wait until Saturday morning.
That's when the layers start to compete with each other and, while the current joint favourites Definitely Red and Vieux Lion Rouge are no bigger than 11/1, it's near certain you will get bigger odds on the morning of the race.
Stamina is the key to success and no fewer than 11 of the winners this century had run in either the Scottish, Welsh or Irish Grand Nationals in a previous season before progressing to glory at Aintree.
Last year's winner Rule The World finished second in the Fairyhouse showpiece a year earlier and his trainer Mouse Morris runs the winner of that race this time in Thunder And Roses, as well as last year's Irish National hero Rogue Angel. Both have claims at big prices, but Rogue Angel is preferred as he ran a really eye-catching race on his first look at the Aintree fences in the Becher Chase in December.
The form book will tell you he was beaten 59 lengths by Vieux Lion Rouge, but that tells only half the story. Rogue Angel had actually jumped and travelled really well in a prominent position until tiring after the third-last and it will have been an enjoyable experience.
With that Aintree sighter out of the way, he has run just twice since, finishing ninth of 28 in a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and then fifth of 18 in the Thyestes Chase in January. Each run was a step further in the right direction and it seems likely Rogue Angel is primed to run the race of his life on Saturday.
The last trainer to win the National two years in succession was Ginger McCain with Red Rum and the last to do so with two different horses was Fred Winter with Jay Trump in 1965 and Anglo in 1966, but Morris has a serious chance of joining them in the history books this Saturday.
One at a massive price who could run well is Charlie Longsdon's Drop Out Joe, who hasn't raced since winning the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in June last year. Admittedly I've no idea whether he will stay as his two previous efforts at marathon trips have been fairly poor, a ninth in the 2015 Scottish National and 15th in last season's bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.
However, he was not a fresh horse for either of those runs and his record tells you he is a completely different horse when he's had a break. In fact, he's lethal.
Drop Out Joe has won first time out in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and he'd been off the track two months when scoring on his 2016 return at Uttoxeter. He has run a couple of poor races when fresh, including when last of five to The Last Samuri in March last year at Doncaster, but it's worth remembering he was just 4-1 to give 2lb to the winner, who is top-weight off 11st 12lb here and one of the favourites.
Drop Out Joe, whose last-time-out run was the best of his life, is 80-1 in a couple of places and seems to have simply been forgotten about. The Uttoxeter win was his second big pot after the Badger Ales Trophy in 2015 and he has the potential to run a big race.
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