The Grand National was conceived by the owner of a Liverpool hotel who wanted a spectacle to pull in a crowd. It was a betting race from day one, designed to randomise the result just enough to keep the punters punting but without putting them off with the sheer unpredictability of it all.
For nearly 200 years, it has done that job brilliantly, but in all that time, there will not have been many Grand Nationals quite as open as this one.
There are at least six horses that could start favourite on Saturday and around 30 among the first 40 in the betting that could win without the outcome being considered a huge shock.
But any attempt at rational analysis has to start somewhere and Vieux Lion Rouge, currently the narrow ante-post favourite, is as good a place as any because he is relatively easy to dismiss at current prices. He looked like a very obvious non-stayer in last year’s race, and while he was seven at the time and has more experience now, he finished a long way behind the winner after travelling well to the home turn.
He is 7lb higher this time too, while The Last Samuri, the runner-up 12 months ago, is even worse off from 12lb higher in the weights. Among others that are fairly prominent in the betting, The Young Master has not shown a great deal this season, Pleasant Company’s trainer, Willie Mullins, has a shocking record in handicap chases in Britain and Ucello Conti was beaten by 37 lengths last year off the same mark.
But what about positives? Definitly Red is the clear form pick at the weights, but whether he deserves to be at least half the price of most of his opponents is another question. He does not have much form on good ground either, and there is little rain forecast in the north-west this week. One For Arthur is another with the form to go very close on testing ground, but something to prove if it rides faster.
If form on decent going is a factor, Saphir Du Rheu and More Of That must go to post with solid chances on the back of big runs behind Sizing John in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month. Vicente, meanwhile, is every inch a horse for the spring, who settled the National Hunt trainers’ title in favour of Paul Nicholls with his win in the Scottish National last season and has looked like a horse that is still fairly handicapped a couple of times already this season. Vicente should run very well, as should Cause Of Causes, whose excellent form last time out has perhaps been overlooked by some because it came in the cross-country event at Cheltenham.
Even 25-1 scarcely feels like value and one horse that could run a huge race at an even bigger price is the veteran Raz De Maree. Gavin Cromwell’s chaser is 12, which is old for a modern National winner, but he showed no signs of age when staying on best of all from out of the pack to finish a clear second behind Native River in the Welsh National at Christmas.
He had a gentle warm-up for Aintree over hurdles last month and has two wins in the Cork National to his name, one of which was on good going. A little cut in the ground would help to slow down some of his speedier opponents, but few will be staying on as strongly in the closing stages. At 40-1 or bigger, Raz De Maree promises to give each-way backers a memorable run for their money.
Greg Wood’s Grand National prediction
1 Raz De Maree 2 Definitly Red 3 Vicente 4 Cause Of Causes