Brendan Duke: Weeding out your winner for the Grand National

Our resident racing lover picks his way through the card for Saturday showpiece at Aintree and picks out a few gambles for our customers…


“Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far”. The wise words of Teddy Roosevelt are ringing in the ears of your intrepid correspondent as I try to solve the Grand National puzzle.

The clerk of the course is speaking good to softly while the big going stick is giving a reading only lowered once in the last 10 years. The ground that day was given as heavy.

Having had a chance to look at the times recorded on Day One I’ve decided it’s soft. The forecast suggests that the ground on Saturday will be the same.

With that in mind here are a couple of sporting selections that can hopefully give us a cheer.

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As mentioned in my previous musings on the big race, STAMINA is the most important consideration. I used caps there for effect and because I’m down with the kids, obvs – it really is worth shouting about.

At the front end of the market this leads me to rule out Total Recall. His keen going nature won’t help.

Coupled with a ropey jumping technique it would come as a surprise were he to finish the race.

The best jumper of these fences is probably Blacklion. He’s been a joy to watch on both runs here. While he stayed well enough to finish fourth last year and more patient tactics could help on Saturday, I just can’t help feeling the trip stretches him. He is reluctantly passed over on that basis.

Finding a guaranteed stayer is tricky, but Seeyouatmidnight comes as close as any to fitting the bill. A highly talented horse, he has victories over Blaklion and Bristol De Mai to his name. Ground conditions appear immaterial to him. Two seasons ago he ran a huge race to finish third in the Scottish Grand National. He was only eight at the time and a touch keen in the race to boot, he stuck on resolutely until a mistake at the last saw him headed and beaten narrowly.

For various reasons, we have only seen him on the racecourse four times since. This has led to him running off the same mark on Saturday as he did at Ayr. His season has revolved around this race. Connections’ plans to get a prep run into him were postponed by rain. When he finally reappeared at Newbury over an inadequate trip things went more smoothly.

Travelling and jumping with his usual zest, he ultimately got tired and came home a well beaten third. That effort will hopefully have put him spot on for the big one.

Regular pilot Brian Hughes returns and while he has an abysmal National record, I’m confident this is a big help to the horse.

Hughes strikes me as an unflappable type. He fills his mounts with confidence over fences and crucially seems acutely aware of how fast a horse is capable of going at any given time during the race. This is a big asset, where jockeys routinely ask their mounts for too much too soon. The stars seem to have aligned for a magical effort from a horse named after the witching hour. At 14/1 he must be backed.

A small saver is also recommended on Maggio. He’s 13, so almost certainly vulnerable to younger legs. However, Paddy are offering six places and he could run into those. A winner at this meeting two seasons ago, he also has experience of the big fences. He’s far from a certain stayer, but my hunch is he’ll get home. Again, his season has revolved around this race and 66/1 looks on the big side to me.

Just on the off chance I haven’t found the winner of the National, here are a couple of selections on the supporting card.

14:25: The clash between On The Blind Side and Black Op is eagerly anticipated. Black Op ran a fine race behind Samcro at Cheltenham and his previous second to Santini reads well too. That said, On The Blind Side brings strong for to the party too. His Sandown win has worked out and it was noticeable how much more comfortably he travelled in that race compared to his previous win at Cheltenham. He strikes me as a horse getting the hang of things. Expect further improvement on Saturday which should be enough to prevail. He looks a good bet at around 2/1.

15:00: Petit Mouchoir had a grueller at Cheltenham. If fully recovered he’ll be hard to beat, but it’s a big if and odds of 8/15 look skinny. Take him on with Shantou Rock, the second highest rated horse in the field. Runner up to two good horses on his last couple of starts, he should run well here and odds of 8/1 appeal to me.

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* All odds correct at time of posting.

What do you think?