horse-racing

A Look Ahead to the Grand National: Who Are the Early Favourites?

March 30, 2017

- Grant Whittington

 

It barely seems like hours since Sizing John powered to victory in the Gold Cup, affording trainer Jessica Harrington a famous win and providing a fitting  finale to the iconic Cheltenham Festival. After four days of drama and making history (Lizzie Kelly became the first female rider to compete in the Cheltenham showpiece for 33 years), fans will scarcely have a chance to catch their breath before April’s equally renowned Grand National.

Make no mistake; this years’ National will be as hotly anticipated and as keenly contested as ever, even though the ongoing dispute between Irish trainers and owners has prevented a number of prominent competitors from the Emerald Isle progressing beyond the final stage of declarations. Irish trainers Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot are still likely to send a small army of horses across the water, however, with many fancied to follow in the footsteps of last years’ surprise winner Rule the World.

Irish Domination: Who are the Early Front-runners for the Race?

While not all of the contenders at Aintree will be Irish-trained, of course, many of the early William Hill tips for success have been bred in the Emerald Isle. At the head of the pack is the Elliott-trained Cause of Causes, who managed to make history in winning the Cross Country crown at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month. With this achievement, he became the first horse to win alternative races at the festival for three consecutive years, while reputation as a competitor for the big occasion makes him one of the favourites for the National.

Mullins is sure to match his rival trainer stride-for-stride, however, with Pleasant Company probably the pick of his runners. This thoroughbred has enjoyed significant support in recent weeks, on the back of a superb victory in the competitive Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. This has seen his odds of winning tumble, meaning that he is now one of the four favourites to prevail at the National this time out.

One of the most popular elements of the National is its unpredictable nature, as the epic Aintree course and its challenging jumps increase the chance of an outside victory. In this respect, the Irish debutant More of That is one to look out for this year, despite the fact that much of his initial momentum appears to have been lost during a mid-season slump. His recent win in the Stayers’ Hurdle means that he is hitting form at just the right time, however, and tipsters are backing More of That as a viable, outside contender.

Are There Any Other Contenders?

Outside of the Emerald Isle, English trainer Paul Nicholls currently has five runners listed for the race, with Le Mercury hotly-tipped as one of the early Grand National favourites. According to reports, he will run in the same colours as the famous 1992 winner Party Politics, after being bought by Patricia Thompson (who is looking to develop a stable of hurdlers after achieving success at flat course nationwide). Thompson has a keen eye for successful runners, so bettors would do well to watch Le Mercury with interest.

The 2015 runner-up Saint Are has also been confirmed as a runner, after Davy Russell was confirmed as his rival after a prolonged delay. The issue revolved around Russell’s stablemate Adrian Heskin, who eventually decided to ride Double Shuffle after initially being assigned to Saint Are. Make no mistake; Saint Are is a leading contender for the Grand National, particularly given his historical form at this time of year and his penchant for the Aintree course. With good ground and some genuine momentum, the only factor that may count against him is the fact that he is now 11 years old.

Our Final Thoughts

On a final note, we cannot discuss the National without also mentioning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, whose love affair with the Aintree fences means that his runners are always well-fancied. This year will prove no exception to this rule, with The Young Master a popular choice to win the £1 million race next week.

With a full field of runners and numerous contenders for the prize, this years’ National is likely to deliver yet another thrilling chapter in the meeting’s illustrious history. While determining a winner may be challenging, however, you can rest assured that the race will be keenly-contested and full of twists and unexpected turns.

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