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Richard Hoiles: My preview of Grand National Day at Aintree

12 Apr | BY Richard Hoiles | MIN READ TIME |
Richard Hoiles: My preview of Grand National Day at Aintree

The horse racing ambassador previews the final day of the Grand National Festival at Aintree and picks out four selections, including two in the big race.

It is still the race where my phone buzzes with messages all week. People who know I am vaguely connected to horse racing in some way messaging to ask who will win the Randox Grand National. A succession of losers doesn’t deter them, nor does trying to explain that this is one of the hardest races of the season and better bets undoubtedly exist elsewhere – in this case hopefully as early as the 10:00 at Chelmsford!

As a boy it was The Pilgarlic who was my Grand National stalwart. Rarely getting a mention on the first circuit, he would dourly make his way through the depleting field to claim a decent each-way return and sometimes the family bragging rights. While many people obviously remember the 1977 National for the record breaking third win for Red Rum, for me it was the horse that finished fourth at 40/1 who would define the next few years of the race. The Pilgarlic ran four times with form figures of 4543, coming closest to winning when fifth in 1978 in terms of distance beaten, and was third when just four finished in his last attempt in 1980.

The Pilgarlic would love the ground conditions that the runners will face this year but, in truth, he wouldn’t get warm in a modern day National, which has become more about speed than 40 years ago. The race has often been the victim of unintended consequences. In the past, you required a particularly assured jumper to face the drops on the inner of the track that spread the field out, and previous form around the course threw up specialists like Red Rum, The Pilgarlic, West Tip and Corbiere. Now the levelling out and reduced fence sizes mean the outer third of the fences will barely be used, as everyone seeks to maximise their chances of winning by taking the shortest route home.

Clearly, many changes have been necessary as welfare issues have rightly been championed by the sport, but it is worth pointing out that speed and the bunched field can be the biggest dangers, so the reduction of the field size is a sensible change this year. Personally, I would have gone to 36 as an initial change and assessed from there but hopefully 34 will prove effective and not lead to the loss of some of the better stories that exist towards the foot of the weights.

So far, rather like those phone calls and messages, I have procrastinated rather than take the plunge for selections, so here is my shortlist for this year’s race.

Top of the pile is MAHLER MISSION / (16:00 Aintree) who has looked a little unlucky not to have already lifted a decent staying chase prize. He had been sent clear quite a long way from home in the 2023 National Hunt Chase at the Festival, and was still five lengths clear when coming down two from home. Opinion was split as to whether he would have held on – he had traded as low as 1.37 in running on the exchanges – but, either way, he had advertised his credentials as a potential National horse for the future.

The horse that eventually won that race was Gaillard Du Mesnil, who finished third behind Corach Rambler and Vanillier in last year’s National where Mister Coffey – third in the National Hunt Chase – had led the field over the last. Mahler Mission has been kept fresh since another top-class effort in November when second in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, and even though the handicapper put him up 7lb for that run he still looks unexposed in staying handicap chases.

My other main fancy is 2022 third DELTA WORK / who was trying to concede nearly a stone to the winner that day in Noble Yeats. Now it is he who is receipt of 8lbs from Emmet Mullins’ top weight, and he was still travelling fine when an uncharacteristic error saw him depart at the one before Becher’s Brook on the second circuit last year.

Outside of that pair, Meeting of the Waters fits the younger profile that has become more prevalent in recent years as a novice’s lack of jumping experience has been mitigated by the fences becoming easier. It still looks as if he could be ahead of the handicapper. Even though much has been made in recent days of Stattler’s ability to handle the ground, he is my ante-post bet in the race after it became obvious the Cross Country route was not going to suit him. At 50/1, he is as big a price today as when I backed him – largely due to the ground query – but he remains a horse with good back class who also ran well in a National Hunt Chase at the Festival, winning the race in 2022 under today’s pilot Patrick Mullins.

Away from the big race, I am hoping that lightning can strike twice for both WEST BALBOA / (13:20 Aintree) and SIRE DU BERLAIS / (15:05 Aintree), both of whom won their respective races twelve months ago. Dan Skelton has shown through his handling of Langer Dan that he is prepared to gear a horse’s entire season around a specific race. West Balboa arrives here 6lbs higher than the win last year, but also having won a small-field conditions race here in November when beating Brewin’Upastorm, who has done the form no harm recently. West Balboa also caught the eye last time at Kempton, signalling she was ready to defend her crown.

Teahupoo and Irish Point’s absences from the Liverpool Hurdle leave the way clear for several familiar names to fight out the finish, and in the hope the race provides more of a test than the Stayers at Cheltenham, Sire Du Berlais is preferred to Flooring Porter. Sire Du Berlais comes into his own at this time of year but was outpaced by the steady gallop set by Flooring Porter that day, before – as usual – staying on strongly from the last. He is approaching the veteran stage but so are plenty of others in the line up.

JOCKEYS FOR COURSES

Our regular weekly feature highlighting jockeys heading to tracks where they have a particularly good career record, using our standard metric of Actual wins vs Expected, based on the exchange SP their rides go off at. Par for this is 1.00, so if for example in Rossa Ryan’s case he has an A/E Ratio at Wolves of 1.27, he rides 27 per cent more winners than the market predicted.

Both today are at the All-Weather tracks, where sample sizes are particularly robust.

WOLVERHAMPTON – Rossa Ryan (147/739, A/E 1.27) including handicap debutant Ten Club (19:40) who shaped with promise on debut and may well improve now handicapped.

CHELMSFORD – Dougie Costello (46/401, A/E 1.31) including Howzak (12.30) who has won off higher and showed good speed last time when only collared inside the final furlong.

Remember these statistics have been built up in most cases over a considerable period of time so are applicable on any day that these particular jockeys ride at these tracks.

STABLE TRACKER UPDATE

One horse on Saturday, and you will have to be the early bird to catch it. DANIELLE (10.00 Chelmsford) really caught the eye at Southwell on her debut back in December. Pretty clueless early on, the penny was really dropping late and she is open to above average progress. She comes from a good staying family so the step up in trip should also be a help.

The current stable tracker list in full, along with the recent comings and goings, can be found here.

COLUMN PERFORMANCE 2024

As always, the three separate strands assessed individually against A/E as explained above and overall total up to an including Thursday of this week.

STABLE TRACKER: 6/6.85, A/E 0.88
JOCKEYS FOR COURSES: 18/17.59, A/E 1/02
DAY SELECTIONS 15/14.11, A/E 1.06
OVERALL PERFORMANCE: 39/38.55, A/E 1.02

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Richard Hoiles

Richard Hoiles

Richard is a horse racing broadcaster and commentator who has been involved in the sport since 1992.

Richard Hoiles

Richard Hoiles

Richard is a horse racing broadcaster and commentator who has been involved in the sport since 1992.