Five Leading Irish Contenders for 2018 Grand National
In a typically lively ante-post betting market, a few of the market principals for the 2018 Grand National are unsurprisingly trained in Ireland.
Although raiders from the Emerald Isle haven’t fared so well in recent runnings of the extended 4m 2f Aintree showpiece, they always command respect from bookies and punters alike. Who are the leading Irish contenders for this year’s renewal though?
Let’s look at five horses trained in Ireland that are entered in the race and, also, towards the head of the Grand National betting. Last year’s runner-up Cause Of Causes isn’t included as he’s been found lame and won’t take up the engagement this time.
Willie Mullins has the top Irish entry still in the 2018 Grand National on weight-adjusted ratings at Timeform today in inaugural Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall. This nine-year-old won his first three starts for the Closutton master trainer in impressive fashion after joining from Sandra Hughes’ yard for this season.
Prior to his success in the Newbury race formerly known as the Hennessy, Total Recall took the Munster National at Limerick when running out a seven-length victor over Alpha Des Obeaux on seasonal reappearance last October. Those wins in hotly competitive staying chase handicaps also meant connections targeted the Cheltenham Gold Cup on route to the Grand National.
Total Recall also had a spin over hurdles at Leopardstown in February, a race that he also won as a warm-up for the Cheltenham Festival’s blue riband event. Although he fell three out in the Gold Cup, Mullins had already identified the Grand National as a clear target and, so long as he proves no worse for the tumble and takes to those unique Aintree fences, Total Recall is entitled to be prominent in the betting on form.
Trainer Tony Martin and top Irish owner JP McManus are a handicap plot match made in heaven and the two team up in this year’s Grand National with Cheltenham Gold Cup third Anibale Fly. Being the best of the rest behind Native River and Might Bite is no shame at all.
This eight-year-old is pretty high in the weights after being allotted 11st 7lb and a Grand National mark of 159 to race off by the BHA (British Horseracing Authority). Based on his revised official rating following the Gold Cup, however, he is 9lb well in at Aintree.
It gives Anibale Fly claims at the weights and the way he finished at Cheltenham suggested a step up in trip could suit. The Grand National is a mile further than the Gold Cup, however, and it was tough going for all the horses, even though they didn’t keep up with the front two.
On the other hand, a 29-day break between the end of the Cheltenham Festival and the National is unprecedented. Anibale Fly has clearly displayed his best form at longer trips so connections look wise to give him a crack at the Aintree marathon, having won an extended 3m handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas before falling in the Irish Gold Cup.
Gordon Elliott and powerful owners Gigginstown House Stud combine with three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll, who has received substantial ante post betting support. This is because these same connections were behind 2018 Irish Grand National hero General Principle.
Two of eight-year-old Tiger Roll’s Festival triumphs have come at extreme distances; first in the 4m National Hunt Chase for novices over fences last year and then in the 3m 6f Cross Country race this season. Elliott loves using that latter contest as a prep run for the Grand National and did so with Silver Birch when he won at Aintree back in 2007.
While there’s no doubting the staying credentials of Tiger Roll, four of his eight career wins have come at Cheltenham. His only previous start at Aintree in a 3m Grade 3 handicap hurdle on soft ground back in 2016 doesn’t inspire confidence as he was 14th of 16 finishers.
That was on the Mildmay course rather than the Grand National circuit though, and Tiger Roll’s proven stamina is a huge plus. Provided he doesn’t make mistakes and keeps his jumping fluent, then this race – originally designed to be a Cross Country contest – could well suit him.
Mullins, who saddled Hedgehunter to Grand National glory back in 2005, has another iron in the fire in 10-year-old Rathvinden. From one National Hunt Chase winner in Tiger Roll to another, this horse is still a novice over fences despite his age because he missed two-and-a-half years of racing through injury.
Rathvinden took a couple of Grade 3 events over much shorter trips during last summer and was then aimed at the highest level during the winter. He was brought down by a faller when still in touch over 3m and then unseated in the Flogas during the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.
Not disheartened by further misfortune, Mullins aimed Rathvinden at the National Hunt Chase during the Cheltenham Festival and he stepped up to 4m superbly. He found extra up the run-in to deny a real gutsy mare in course winner Ms Parfois, despite giving weight and age away.
You couldn’t help but admire Rathvinden after all this horse’s problems. How much his first time at an extreme distance has taken out of him remains to be seen but, despite his novice status, he fits the age profile of recent Grand National winners with five of the last 15 being 10.
And finally, Ucello Conti was unlucky when unseating his rider in last year’s renewal. He previously finished sixth in the 2016 Grand National off a mark of 2lb higher than his current official rating of 147 and has placed fourth over the fences in the 3m 2f Becher Chase before.
Trained by Elliott and sporting the two-tone green colours of owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who have had a terrific season, the 10-year-old stayed on well to finish second behind Anibale Fly in that hot Leopardstown handicap over Christmas. The heavy ground Ucello Conti encountered at Gowran Park when pulled up last time may not have suited.
A case came be made for better form on better ground for this horse. If Ucello Conti raced off the same weight and mark as 2016 Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri two years ago and now meets that rival off 12lb better terms, he can surely improve on sixth if he gets round this time.
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