I will not be at the National preview at Rigbys or watching the first day of the meeting for personal reasons.
However, I will be picking up on what is now a proper Festival with superb “support races” from Friday.
We should start with John Francome’s wise words concerning what the the National now is:
While I don’t share Francome’s negativity about what the race now is – it had to change and last year was an unqualified success – it is vitally important to bear in mind that staying rather than jumping is the key. He makes a very good point that 120-125 stayers won’t get in the race but it is what it is. Having said that, this maybe gives us an angle into the race by focusing on stayers who do make the cut.
So, let’s start with Long Run. It’s hard to believe that he’s only a 9-y-o. This season cannot be seen as anything other than disappointing. However, if you looked at him as a coming horse for the National then it’s not so bad. The Gold Cup confirms his class, as does any number of Grade 1 performances. He’s the best horse to run in this race for ages. No-one can criticise his jockey over the fences and he has stayer written all over him. The bottom line question is straightforward – is he knackered? There is evidence to suggest that he is. If not then he wins this easily against far inferior horses. That is the dilemma.
Next is Teaforthree. Look at how close he is at the last fence last year. He has to be taken seriously but I’m still unconvinced. A superb bet for a place so bear that in mind with the first six options that will no doubt emerge this week, subject to a 10/1 or similar SP.
Tidal Bay is a lovely horse that Paul Nicholls has shown what can be done with after the transfer from his errant former trainer. However, for all of his renaissance, this is just not the right option. A horse that has been juggled from hurdles to fences, his valedictory run was the extraordinary win at Leopardstown over a year ago. His late run could provide one of the greatest wins ever (Red Rum and Crisp) but I really can’t see it.
I’m sorry to say this for connections (save that I’m thinking about all other connections) but I’m of the view that Monbeg Dude has been media promoted all as a result of those connections rather than ability. He’s a decent horse but I can’t possibly see him as a National winner. That said the form view is always there to kick you in the National but that is the only basis on which I see this one winning.
Prince de Beauchene
Surely this is a runner by default, i.e. because there is no other obvious option (unlike On His Own). Just can’t have him.
Now then, Pineau De Re is my idea of the winner (at a current 20/1). I may be way off the mark but I suspect that this one will be much shorter come the day. The good doctor (Richard Newland) has worked hard with moderate horses for a number of years but this one fits the profile perfectly, as I currently see it. He fell in the Becher (when off 135) but his placing in that race, followed by hurdles (save for a chase win at Exeter over 3m) and his excellent third to Fingal Bay in the Pertemps is an ideal prep. At the current price he’s also an excellent each way choice.
Rocky Creek, Triolo d’Alene and Burton Port are all horses deserving their places in the race but I don’t see any of them featuring in the places. Balthazar King has his place in the betting by virtue of his aptitude for Cross Country races but his 15th in this last year and his 1st at Craon on a mad course in September and 1st at Cheltenham in this year’s Cross Country emphasises the difference between the disciplines.
Of the others, I have none. I’m pretty confident that the winner will come from the horses I’ve highlighted. Of course, a result like last year’s could make me look a fool but they rarely happen in successive years.