horse-racing

GRAND NATIONAL PREVIEW: The favourites, who YOU should pick and more

April 12, 2018

- Grant Whittington

In every sport, there are events that truly transcend the fundamental nature of competition, while also appealing to a diverse, global audience. Take golf’s iconic Masters tournament, for example, which is the first major of every year and is watched by people who would not normally classify themselves as fans of the sport.

In the sport of kings, the equivalent is undoubtedly the Grand National. First run in 1839 and now fully established as the highlight of the jump season, this event is followed by a global audience of millions and has produced some of the most memorable moments in the history of the sport (such as Foinavon’s stunning victory at odds of 150/1 in 1967).

With the 2018 installment now upon us, we decided to preview this race and ask which runner will add their name to an illustrious list of previous winners.

The National – Who are the Key Contenders and Early Favourites?

Typically, the National is one of the most unpredictable races in the sporting calendar. The length of the iconic Aintree course has much to do with this, of course, as does the formidable nature of many of the hurdles that separate runners from victory.

The size of the field is also a factor, and this years’ race will be no exception to this long-standing rule. We expect a total of 40 to start at Aintree, with the runners competing for a hefty winners’ cheque of £500,000.

Even this pales into insignificance when compared with the prestige of winning such a race, however, and the immense prospect of joining the ranks of runners and riders who have previously prevailed at Aintree.

For those who are familiar with the National, there will be a number of familiar faces in the starting line-up. Total Recall and Blaklion (trained by Willie Mullins and Nigel Twiston-Davies respectively) are both expected to start the race, for example, while they also remain two of the early front-runners in the eyes of the bookmakers.

In fact, Blaklion has quickly been established as the initial favourite, with a starting price of around 9/1. While the odds are sure to change and fall considerably over the next few days and as the race draws closer, there’s no doubt this nine-year-old runner is likely to be there or thereabouts as he enters the final straight.

Blaklion’s pedigree is borne out by his career record to date, as he has won four of his 15 steeplechase outings to date and placed in the top three on 10 occasions. Overall, he has won an impressive nine of 25 race rules outings, placing in 18 and constantly reminding punters of his innate ability on jump courses.

Blaklion certainly enters the race in excellent form, despite having come second to Yala Enki by some instance at Haydock last time out. Interestingly, he won by nine lengths on his last outing at Aintree in December last year, vanquishing a field of 15 including a number of his Grand National rivals.

It’s also important to note that Blaklion has fared well at the National in the past, placing fourth last year having been ridden exceptionally well by Gavin Sheenon.

In the case of Total Recall, we have another seasoned nine-year-old who will start at Aintree in superb form. Currently priced at around 10/1, he won three consecutive jump races between October and February, before falling spectacularly at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup in March. This tumble is not expected to be a factor on Saturday, however, with Total Recall fully recovered and well-rested.

Punters will also draw encouragement from the horses brilliant performance at Newbury in December, when he blazed a trail across the three-mile course to finish first in a competitive and high-quality field of 20.

Are There Any Outsiders Worth Backing?

There’s a tendency to think that favourites rarely win at Aintree, but while this is not necessarily true there’s no doubt that the Grand National remains one of the most unpredictable races on the calendar.

This means that punters are also keen to seek out outside runners with a realistic chance of winning, and there are number of viable options in the 2018 installment.

At the top of this list is Seeyouatmidnight, who is now 10-years old and trained by Sandy Thompson. This horse is certainly experienced and boasts an exceptional career record, having won seven and placed in 13 of his 16 race rules outings overall. He’s currently priced at around 16/1, but if the current betting trends are to be sustained these odds could well lengthen between now and 5:15 on Saturday.

We reckon that Seeyouatmidnight would boast far lower odds were it not for an enforced hiatus of a year, after he underwent wind surgery in the spring of March 2017. Despite this, he undoubtedly fared well on his return at Newbury in last month, when he placed third in a field of seven and coped tremendously with the challenging, two-mile and four-furlong course.

Similarly, Jonjo O’Neill’s 18/1 shot Minella Rocco is also worth consideration as an each-way bet. While the eight-year-old may lack the pedigree of his rivals having won just three of 15 rules races (and one of 13 steeplechase outings), he boasts immense potential and is certainly capable of completing the course.

Much of this optimism will have been drawn from his performance at Leopardstown in December 2017, when he performed tremendously well over the three-mile course and eventually placed fourth in a field of 12. He achieved this in challenging conditions and despite a starting price of 25/1, so punters would be advised to keep an eye on this runner.

The Last Word – One of the Most Open Nationals in Years?

While these are our initial picks for the Aintree showpiece, there are a number of runners who are capable of challenging for the win and thriving as an each-way bet.

In fact, the early indicators are that this installment of the Grand National could be one of the most open and keenly-contested in years, which is great for the neutrals but not so appealing for the nation’s army of interested betting enthusiasts.

Regardless of what happens, however, we can be sure that the 2018 Grand National will deliver its usual thrills and spills before a baying and diverse crowd.

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