They said when the new easier format of the fences was introduced and the distance of the Aintree National was dropped by the best part of a quarter of a mile, that the greatest race on earth would become a ‘fairer’ test and the cream would rise to the top.
However, apart from Mon Mome (100/1), the other four previous four winners before the course transition won at 7/1 fav, 11/1, 33/1 and 7/1 jt-fav. In the last five years, the victors have returned at 14/1, 33/1, 25/1, 25/1 and 66/1! So much for that level playing field eh?
So, if that pattern is to continue, where does the value lie amongst the outsiders? Shall we lay the betting line at 25/1 plus? Here’s your five to follow…
I have long thought of Alpha Des Obeaux as an Aintree sort ever since I saw him win the Galmoy Hurdle on deep ground at Gowran Park two years ago. A big strapping individual, the son of Saddler Maker seemed to relish the ground on that occasion and simply won as he pleased. That effort remains his best over hurdles on deep ground, surpassed only by his second to Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle a month later on a much faster surface.
On my figures he has only matched that level of form twice in 12 starts over fences, but both of those efforts came this season when winning the Clonmel Oil Chase and more pertinently finishing second to Total Recall in the Munster National.
On that latter occasion, he was beaten by seven lengths (admittedly pretty readily) but he is now a full 17lbs better off at the weights. Of course, the Mullins’ charge has continued to go forward this season whereas Alpha has been disappointing since.
However, I believe he will be well suited to this extreme test and if the talented Rachael Blackmore can get him into a rhythm and keep him out of trouble early on, he has the class to be involved at the business end here.
I am hoping that enough horses come out of the race so Vintage Clouds (45th in the list) can line-up as he looks the perfect National candidate, even more so now as the ground looks set to be soft at the very least and could be even be more testing.
His run in the Ultima Handicap Chase when third behind Coo Star Sivola looked the perfect prep for this, following staying on efforts in the Welsh National and a fine second in the Grade Two Towton Novices Chase over an insufficient three miles at Wetherby.
He jumps, he stays and Vintage Clouds loves a dog fight. With only 12 chase efforts under his belt, the eight-year-old remains relatively unexposed.
Regal Encore is a real monkey of a race horse. He either jumps like an empty milk bottle or travels superbly through his races and wins.
Two successes at Ascot show that he has the class and stamina to play a part here, but even more interesting was his run in the 2017 Aintree Marathon.
Settled out the back, Robbie Power was at pains to just get him to pop his fences which is always the best way at Liverpool. Slightly outpaced at halfway, nothing was finishing better than him from the turn in and he passed about eight rivals in the last half mile to finish a closing eighth.
Another outsider to note is Carlingford Lough, winner of a Galway Plate, a Topaz Chase, a Champion Novice Chase, an Irish Hennessy, an Irish Gold Cup and a Punchestown Gold Cup.
Okay, he is not as good as he used to be for the last of those victories two years ago, but I suspect he has specifically been laid out for this and I thought that there was plenty to like about his run behind Sizing John last time out.
Deep ground has always been his preserve and I doubt that this extreme distance will prove his undoing. If he still has the spring in his old legs, the 12-year-old could prove the most interesting of all the outsiders.
Houblon Des Obeaux was another to catch the eye last year in 10th spot albeit beaten a fair way, but he jumped the famous obstacles beautifully, but simply didn’t have the pace to get on terms.
I honestly don’t see him winning, but if we get the full complement of rain forecast I can see the old boy staying on into a place as he has done in a Newbury Hennessy off 157, a Warwick Classic Chase off 146, a Welsh National off 153 and a Midlands National off 144.
Set to line up here off 144, the more rain that falls the better for this old timer who showed at Sandown Park this season that the fire still burns bright.
* All odds correct at time of posting.