Thursday 5 April 2018

2018 Grand National: Leading Contenders For Aintree Glory

One of the true highlights of the National Hunt season, the Grand National is an incredibly prestigious event. With prize money of £1 million up for grabs in 2018, the biggest and most successful trainers, owners and jockeys will be competing for one of racing’s top purses.
In 2017, Lucinda Russell’s One For Arthur romped home under a superb ride from Derek Fox but the defending champion was ruled out of the Aintree showpiece after suffering a season-ending injury. Despite that obvious disappointment, the race must go on.
However, there are still plenty of top-class horses in the mix and it would take a brave man to rule anybody out at this moment in time. All 40 competitors have made the cut on merit and chief handicapper Phil Smith has judged entries well this year.
But enough chitchat; it is time to look at a few of the market principles ahead of the 2018 event. We have narrowed down the field to six prime contenders but who is YOUR Grand National winner? Check out our thoughts on this year's race below.

Fresh Legs Could Help Minella Rocco
Last year’s Gold Cup runner-up was originally aimed at a second bite at that particular cherry but the ground was of some concern at the Festival. Instead, Minella Rocco will go for the Grand National and he could feature prominently. Stamina is no issue for this horse; he won the four-miler at Cheltenham back in 2016 and that is a key box ticked on your Aintree checklist.

The form behind this horse is very strong indeed. He has finished before Native River on two separate occasions and Colin Tizzard’s mount has just won a Cheltenham Gold Cup. He will have to contend with carrying top weight but Minella Rocco has the class, stamina and speed to romp home in this famous Merseyside event.

Total Recall Travelling Well When Falling In Gold Cup

According to the latest odds and tips from over at Timeform, Total Recall is the current ante-post favourite for the 2018 Grand National. He was travelling well in fifth when falling at the third last fence in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but was never going to catch Might Bite or eventual winner Native River on that day. Total Recall could go close at Aintree, though, if he has a safe trip around.
Prior to that Gold Cup run, Total Recall had won three races in a row – all three had fields of 16 runners or more. His ability to compete against a lot of opponents should stand him in good stead here and that may be why he heads the betting at 11/1. Plenty of tipsters will be backing him to go all the way this year and he could lead off as favourite on April 14th.

Bellshill Heading To Aintree?

Fifth in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, Bellshill could set his sights on Aintree. Willie Mullins’ mount was leading at the final fence but appeared to be distracted and eventually finished fifth – beaten by one and a half lengths in a dramatic finish. 29th in the weights, Bellshill is well placed to push his rivals close on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Ruby Walsh will not feature in this year’s race after suffering an injury at Cheltenham but his loss is Paul Townend’s gain. Townend has ridden Bellshill a few times, as has David Mullins and it could be a difficult jockey choice for connections. On paper, Townend is arguably the more gifted rider and his experience in a race of this magnitude could be telling.

Ucello Conti Well In At The Handicap
Gordon Elliott has kept Ucello Conti fresh specifically with this race in mind and he could be there or thereabouts at the business end of the race. Doubts remain over his ability to stay, especially with no prep run before this year’s event, but he stayed when finishing a gallant sixth in this race back in 2016. You could argue that he is arguably better placed to challenge now.
Treated quite kindly by the handicapper, Ucello Conti has the quality to go close – it would be foolish to write him off. He is available at 25/1 with most high street bookmakers and is a sure-fire thing to go off at a much shorter price on the day. With a bit of luck, connections may be celebrating at Aintree come next weekend.

Anibale Fly Capable Of Another Big Run
There weren’t many tipsters backing Anibale Fly to place in this year’s Gold Cup but that is exactly what happened. After a low-key ride under Barry Geraghty, he finished quickly but was never able to challenge the two leaders. However, finishing third in such a prestigious race is no easy feat and Anibale Fly must be respected for that result.
Based on that performance, stamina should not be too much of an issue. He has won and placed in two separate races of three miles or longer and he can perform on different types of ground. Versatility is needed to shine in big-field races like this one and he could be the next Grand National winner. At 14/1, he is certainly backable for another positive effort.

Last Chance For The Last Samuri?

You’d be hard pressed to find a more well-received winner than Kim Bailey's charge. An agonising second to Rule The World in this race two years ago, The Last Samuri headed back to Aintree last year and finished a respectable 16th after carrying top weight. Now fourth in the handicap, his trainer believes that he is talented enough to challenge near the front once again.

Unfortunately, he will have to reverse the form with Gordon Elliott’s Tiger Roll, winner of the 2018 Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Tiger Roll is much better off at the weights and The Last Samuri may find this one a stretch too far. It would be the stuff of dreams if he can give connections one more memorable day out.