I’ve been hopeful a few times before but Silviniaco Conti looks like my best chance of winning the world’s greatest race this Saturday.
He bounced back to his best when winning at Ascot last time and now looks well handicapped for a crack at the Grand National fences.
Conti is a real Aintree specialist. He’s won two Grade Ones Chases and a Grade Two Novice Chase in Liverpool and runs off a rating of 163 on Saturday. He was rated 177 when starting favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup 12 months ago.
As a dual King George VI winner, he just looks to have that bit of class that’s now needed to win the Grand National.
I schooled Conti last week at Paul Nicholls’ yard so it’s just a question of keeping him ticking over now before Saturday’s contest.
He could have improved again since his Ascot win and goes there in good shape. You never really know if a horse will stay the extreme distance of 4m 2f until you try but he’s delivered on the big stage for me before when asked.
You need a classy horse who jumps and stays well to win the Grand National these days – especially with the changes to the race conditions. The winners from five years or so ago wouldn’t be good enough to win it now and a lot of the runners then wouldn’t even get into the race.
A touch of class
Last year’s winner Many Clouds is proof of that. He’s was just short of Gold Cup standard so that’s the level of performance you’re looking at.
He looks a big danger again. He’s proven over the trip and has been campaigned with this race in mind all season. The National looked to be more of an afterthought in some ways after he won the Hennessy Gold Cup early on in the season.
Irish trainer Willie Mullins is chasing Paul Nicholls hard for the UK Trainers Championship and his Sir Des Champs looks well treated on his best form. He was second in the Gold Cup a few years ago and looks nicely weighted here.
The Druids Nephew was travelling well when falling last year and that experience should stand to him. The better the ground the better his chance.
I’ve ridden in the National 14 times and my best finish has been fifth, twice. Rocky Creek gave me a great spin behind Pineau De Re in 2014. I thought I was going to win it on him but he didn’t quite stay the distance.
I was gutted when I realised it wasn’t going to happen. To be honest I’d sooner know my fate two fences out than to get collared on the run in with victory within your grasp.
Before that I was fifth to Numbersixvalverde on Jonjo O Neill’s Risk Accessor in 2006.
I actually rode the joint-favourite Moral Support for trainer Charlie Mann on my very first ride in the Grand National in 2001. It rained all day and he was backed into joint-favourite from the early shows. Luckily I knew little about it.
I was only a professional for two years so it was a big deal to be riding the National favourite. Unfortunately, there was a pile-up at the Canal Turn and we ended up on top of the fence!
Red Marauder won it from Smarty in an absolute grueller. Only four horses finished and even then, AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh had to re-mount Blowing Wind and the previous year’s winner Papillon, to cross the finish line. They wouldn’t be allowed to do that now.
I won’t alter my approach to the race and will just try to treat it as one more race – although you can’t really. It’s important not to let the occasion get to you too much.
I salute Magpies every day on the way to the races anyway, but I’ll make a point of asking the starter Robbie Supple to tighten Silviniaco Conti’s girth at the start. I don’t want to leave anything to chance.
But it’s great to be going into the Grand National again on a leading contender. If he runs to form, Silviniaco Conti has a hell of a chance on Saturday.