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Horse Racing Grand National takes centre stage

IT IS once again that time of year when the nation stops and the Grand National takes centre stage on the sporting stage and indeed the news front.

Forget the Premier League title race or that absorbing confrontation at the top of the Championship — well at least for 10 minutes or so — Aintree is the place to focus on as we all have a wee flutter on the world’s greatest race.

This year’s event though is going to be slightly different from previous renewals with the shorter run to the first fence, so the velocity of the runners is controlled and the fact that only 34 will now go to post instead of 40.

With the ground conditions set to be very testing, this could be a really deep slog to the very end of the four-and-a-quarter miles, and only those with bottomless stamina need apply.

Last year saw Corach Rambler travel through the race like a knife through butter, still swinging on the bridle after the last obstacle with only the long run in ahead of him and the famous elbow.

There is little doubt that the Lucinda Russell-trained charge dossed and idled when out in front as Vanillier came at him hard and fast from a furlong-and-a-half out.

But the latter had truly cooked his goose following some slow jumps in the middle of the race, and had he got to the winner, I suspect Corach would have found a little bit more for the company.

The 2023 hero has been given a 13lbs hike in the weights and the runner-up is only 4lbs higher, so, in theory, that form should readily be reversed.

Add to those facts that this year’s likely favourite had what seemed to be a very hard run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when third, looked out on his legs up the final climb, and many of you will fancy the grey Irish challenger to gain his revenge here.

However, the last named looked sluggish in his warm-up race and arguably wants better ground than he is going to encounter this afternoon.

Both could well hit the frame again, but I think there is much better value outside the first two from last year, and top of the shop for me is MR INCREDIBLE.

He was travelling like the wrath of god on the inside last year until his saddle slipped under Brian Hayes (partners him again here) and the jockey had no chance of staying on board after negotiating the Canal Turn on the second circuit.

Of course, it was too far from home to be adamant that the partnership would have been involved in the finish. But up to that point he had fenced well, and we knew that stamina was his strong suit.

He has raced just the once since that unlucky turn of events, and it was a fabulous warm-up as he stayed on strongly under a welter weight when second in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter.

Sure to have come on for that run and with conditions in his favour, I am sure that he merely needs a clear round to play a major role in the finish.

The one minor negative is that he is 5lbs higher for last year, which to my mind is unfathomable seeing as he hadn’t reappeared since last year when the weights were framed in February; what was the handicapper Martin Greenwood thinking?

The Grand National though remains a unique race despite the tinkering of the conditions of the contest down through the years and with the prices on offer I am also going to have two other wagers in the race having backed my first selection ante-post some months ago.

I really like the mare GALIA DES LITEAUX who has no weight on her back, stays longer than your aunty Edith and will adore the ground conditions.

She hails from the hugely in-form Skelton clan. Trained by Dan and set to be partnered by his brother Harry, this bay mare still has more improvement in her, following just nine starts over fences and just the 12 races under rules.

Her closing second in the Warwick Classic Chase earlier this year is the key piece of form as she got to within three parts of a length of My Silver Lining and that mare went on to finish third in the aforementioned Midlands National just behind Mr Incredible.

I actually think she will improve for the step-up in trip as well, and has been severely overlooked in the betting by both pundits and punters alike.

My third play in the race will be more left field, and I fancy that he will either be pulled up inside the first half-mile or run a massive race. It’s all about FAROUK D’ALENE taking to the occasion and the fences.

One thing we do know about the nine-year-old is that he adores the mud and stays well. But he also has his own mind about the game.

Sometimes the nine-year-old gelding looks like a top-class stayer, and other occasions it simply looks as though he couldn’t be bothered with the whole thing.

He looked like he was going to absolutely hack up in the 2022 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but then got the second last all wrong and fell in a heap with Davy Russell.

I’m sure he would have beaten L’Homme Presse had he stood up.

This season, he ran a cracker in a staying handicap hurdle at the back end of December, but then just dropped out tamely when fancied in the Pertemps Hurdle Final last month at Cheltenham.

So I have no idea which Farouk we will get this afternoon, but if we get the very best version, he could well shock the horse racing world.

I could, of course, go through the whole field and give another 20 a real chance, but below is a list of the horses I respect outside my selections for this year’s great race.

MEETINGOFTHEWATERS — Has been a big gamble in the last week and looked ready for this kind of extended distance when staying on strongly in the Ultima Chase. I certainly couldn’t put any of you off his chance, but the price is now short enough, and he could still conceivably start favourite.

VANILLIER — Second last year (see above) and relished the test of stamina 12 months ago. But does he possibly want slightly faster ground?

NOBLE YEATS — Former winner, who will now have to carry top weight, which is a particular burden in this ground. He finished off really nicely under a heavy weight last year and could hit the frame again.

ELDORADO ALLEN — Has had some cracking form in Grade One events down through the years, and I always thought that he would be a perfect fit for this race. Would probably want the ground to dry out a little bit.

MINELLA CROONER — Fair novice who has the staying power for this, but all his best form has been in smaller fields.

I AM MAXIMUS — Last year’s Irish National winner, he has bottomless stamina and although a handicap mark of 159 is enough the eight-year-old is at the very peak of his powers and a clear round should see him go close to landing a second “National.”



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