By John Doyle
That time of year for the Aintree Grand National is upon us once again. This Saturday’s (5:15pm) offering has a super-hot favourite in last year’s winner, Tiger Roll. The Gordon Elliott trained horse will be hard to beat, but with all those fences and the other 39 runners, anything is possible in the Grand National.
Starting with Tiger Roll, this amazing animal appears to be getting better and better. Last season, after being hunted round by Davy Russell, he shot clear towards the last, but was running out of steam as the line approached but just held on.
It gave Elliott his first National winner since Silver Birch back in 2007.
Coming back this season, he ran well at Cheltenham in November before cruising home over Hurdles at Navan in Graded company.
Owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, when Tiger Roll turned up at the Cheltenham Festival for the Cross Country, he absolutely hacked around and ran right away from his field, winning by 22 lengths.
It was his second Cross Country Chase win at the Festival, and his fourth victory at the Festival win in all.
“He (the handicapper) said he might have been easy on him, giving him 8lb, because he could have given him 10lb or more very easily,” he said recently.
“That only leaves him a pound wrong with last year, so it looks like he’s a better horse this year than he was last year.”
Tiger Roll is a very short price to repeat last year’s win, and if he gets around safely he will go close to completing the double.
If he does, he’ll become just the fifth horse to win back-to-back Nationals; Abd-El-Kader (1850 and 1851), The Colonel (1869 and 1870), Reynoldstown (1935 and 1936) and Red Rum (1973 and 1974).
Anibale Fly ran another great race in the Gold Cup, finishing off well to take second place, following his placed efforts in last season’s Gold Cup and Grand National.
This is a very good horse and Meath trainer Tony Martin has been aiming him towards the Grand National all season. He will have to carry top weight but with a more positive ride than last year, he can be involved come the finish.
Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins is no doubt still celebrating his first-ever Gold Cup win thanks to Al Boum Photo, but he will be strongly represented in Liverpool by Rathvinden and Pleasant Company.
Rathvinden showed reserves of stamina to win the National Hunt Chase at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and ran out an impressive winner at Fairyhouse on seasonal debut.
He has a nice racing weight and can be a strong contender. Pleasant Company was the fast finishing runner up last season and has been trained for the race again.
He looked to be outpaced before staying on last season, so quicker ground may not suit as well.
You have to go back to 2005 and Hedgehunter for Mullins’ only previous Grand National winner. Ruby Walsh was in the saddle that day. Like Elliott, Mullins is in good form – he was the leading trainer at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, as well as picking up that first-ever Gold Cup win.
Between them, Mullins and Elliott have been the leading trainer at the Cheltenham for the last five years – Mullins three times and Elliott twice.
Mall Dini, trained in Ireland by Pat Kelly, is another interesting contender. This horse is a thorough stayer, who despite excellent form in top races, seems to find it difficult to win.
The rigours of the Grand National might be right up his street and if everything falls together, he could finally achieve the big win his talent deserves.
Another outsider to consider is the Sue Smith trained, Vintage Clouds. Placed at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and place in the Scottish National, Vintage Clouds has the resolution to be prominent and to stay in contention.
However, he doesn’t give you the impression of being an overly strong stayer.
In short, though, this year is all about Tiger Roll. Barring accidents, he will be very hard to beat. But Anibale Fly is a class animal and will again go close.
John Doyle’s Aintree Grand National Selection:
1st. Tiger Roll
2nd. Anibale Fly
4th. Mall Dini