With the equine flu outbreak now a mere footnote in UK racing’s history, we can now look forward to a cracking few months on the National Hut campaign with earnest.
The Cheltenham Festival comes first, of course, and that will undoubtedly be four days of top-notch racing that we will all enjoy (and hopefully win a few quid on!).
And then a few weeks later, on Saturday April 6, comes the 172nd running of the Grand National.
The weights for the Aintree showstopper have been released this week, and already the ante post betting market is being shaped after some eyebrow-raising results.
Bristol De Mai, who was vying for favouritism in the market, has been shuffled out to 33/1 after being given the top weight of 11st 10lb.
Many Clouds, off a 11-09 mark in 2015, is the only National winner in years to go off at a similar mark, with the great Red Rum winning at 11-08 way back in 1977.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ has an official mark of 173 but will run off 168 as the BHA’s handicapper Martin Greenwood looked to balance the books. “My reasoning was, ‘do I want a horse out of kilter at the top, or potentially ten out of the weights at the bottom?” he said.
“No handicapper likes any horse not running off the mark we believe he should be off, but the National is an unusual, unique race and I think there’s room for discretion.
“It’s the second highest mark run off in 20 years, he’s a top-class chaser and if he wins this race it will be an all-time star performance.”
And Twiston-Davies was naturally delighted to see his fancy favourably weighted. “It’s nice to give the decent horse a chance. It definitely concentrates the mind on the race more than would have been the case otherwise.”
Others to Follow After Favourable Weighting
Much will depend on the conditions of course as to what constitutes a ‘good weight’ at Aintree, but the history books show us a sweet spot to aim for.
Four of the last five winners have come somewhere in the middle of the weights, ranging from 10-06 to 10-13. Of course, the 2019 National champion may come from higher or lower, but if the conditions are good or yielding then somewhere in the latter half of the ‘10s’ is a decent place to start.
Two in that category, Rock the Kasbah and Pleasant Company, are respected in the betting market at 25/1 and 33/1 respectively. The former won a decent handicap at Cheltenham in November, while the latter finished an agonising second in last year’s Grand National by a head.
Gordon Elliott has a huge number of declarations, including defending champion Tiger Roll – up in the weights this time around, Outlander and Don Poli.
But at the weights, it’s perhaps Dounikos – a winner of a Grand National Trial at Punchestown this week – that catches the eye.
Of the more established names, Elegant Escape – the Welsh Grand National champion – will go off at 11-04, while Vintage Clouds, a former winner at Aintree who also won a handicap at Haydock Park in November, will carry a lowly 10-00.
General Principle, meanwhile, has been one of the biggest market movers despite weighing in at 10-00 as well.