At face value you might think Ruby Walsh would know much more than me about how to win the Grand National. He’s won two of them and has a great record of getting round.
But that’s nonsense. He’s a jockey. That doesn’t mean he can find you the winner. You hear me Ruby?
I knew Ruby would pick Many Clouds, but how many horses win consecutive Nationals? Not many. Added to that plenty of horses who have jumped round well the first time don’t do so well the second. So at the prices I have to take him on and he won’t be in my five.
1. THE DRUIDS NEPHEW
MC: I’m filled with confidence now that Ruby has left this one out. There’s little doubt in my mind that he would have landed the race for Neil Mulholland if he hadn’t slipped on landing after jumping five out 12 months ago. He’s been primed for the big day and although 9lb higher in the handicap, he should go well after a good second at Doncaster last time.
1. MANY CLOUDS
RW: The reigning champ was a good winner last year where arguably the race was an after-thought after he won his early-season target, the Hennessy Gold Cup. He’s had a much more focused campaign this year and there’s no doubts about his ability to handle the unique demands of the Aintree fences or the stamina-sapping 4m 2f trip.
Red Rum was the last horse to record back-to-back wins in the National (you’ve heard of him Matt right?) and Many Clouds looks like he’s made for the place and is still lightly-raced.
2. THE LAST SAMURI
MC: Again ditched by Ruby! Kim Bailey knows how to win a National, having done so with Mr Frisk in lightning quick time in 1990. This eight-year-old jumps well, stays strong and is improving with every race. He’s at the right end of the weights too and and he should give a huge performance.
RW: He travelled sweetly here last year for a long way to finish fifth where it appeared he didn’t quite see out the trip. He’s a year older and wiser now and Jonjo O’Neill is a great trainer of long-distance chasers. Despite a bad run at Newbury (where there was a valid excuse for his performance) he looks sure to figure again.
3. SILVINIACO CONTI
MC: I’m with Ruby here. How can you leave out a dual King George VI Chase hero with such hot course form at Aintree? Conti bounced right back to form last time at Ascot and his ‘mark’ of 163 is perfectly workable considering he was winning of 173 in his prime. He’s always looked a good jumper to me and is the class act of the race.
RW: I know Paul Nicholls’ runner well having ridden him from 2011 to 2013 and we fell behind Bobs Worth in the Cheltenham 2013 Gold Cup. He’s a class act, jumps well, but the one question mark to me concerns his stamina. You could say that about half the field though, so I’m happy to leave him in.
MC: A dour Irish stayer. Some might think he needs heavy ground to perform to his best, but he was a very good second in the Scottish National on a good surface and he has been over the National fences before. He’s still only a nine-year-old despite having been around for ages. Will keep plodding on when others have cried enough.
RW: Charlie Longsdon’s runner has improved quietly throughout the season and is at the right end of the weights too. Owned by J P McManus, he’s a very good jumper and could be a solid each-way shout at a good price.
5. UCELLO CONTI
MC: This is a shrewd pick by Ruby – it makes me feel he read my mind! No surprise Ruby has picked it either, as he’ll know the extraordinary route jockey Jacques Ricou took on this horse at both Gowran Park and Leopardstown! Despite the scenic steering Ucello Conti wasn’t beaten far in both those competitive contests. He’s arguably been primed for the big day by one of the shrewdest primers in the business and Gold Cup winning trainer, Gordon Elliott. Has a big chance.
RW: I think the Irish challenger Ucello Conti will go well. He’s only had three runs this season and the form of his second-placed finish in the Paddy Power Chase in December and the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park gives him a chance. He jumps and stays well and should give Daryl Jacob (won the GN on Neptune Collognes in 2012) a good spin.