The intelligent punter's guide to the Grand National
We can't promise a winner - but after his success last year, Neil Clark's tips are worth following
IT IS arguably the most exciting sporting event anywhere in the world. Tomorrow afternoon at 4.15pm (live on BBC1) 40 horses and jockeys will race off towards the first of 30 fences in a bid to land jump racing's most famous steeplechase: the Grand National, worth £547,268 to the winner.
After last year's race, in which two horses were killed, the formidable Aintree fences have been modified. But the four miles four furlongs marathon still represents a supreme test for both horse and jockey.
As to finding the winner, it's not as difficult a task as it first appears.
Not surprisingly, given the unique nature of the course, horses with previous experience of the big National fences have a distinct advantage. Seven of the last eleven winners of the race had run before over the course, and four of these had taken part in a previous Grand National.
Horses carrying big weights are best avoided, as no horse carrying more than 11st 5lb has won since the legendary three-times winner Red Rum in 1977. The best age for a National winner is either nine or ten: horses in that age group have won eight of the last nine Nationals.
In the past decade or so, the quality of the race has improved so you need to give careful consideration to horses that have run well at the top meetings, particularly at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals. All of the last five winners had good Cheltenham or Aintree festival form.
Stamina is important and you want a horse that's already won over 3m or more - the last winner to defy that statistic was Gay Trip, back in 1970.
My star ratings are based on the above criteria. Last year, horses I awarded the maximum four-star ratings included the winner, Ballabriggs, the runner-up Oscar Time and the fourth-placed State of Play, while the third-placed Don't Push It had been recommended as an each-way bet. Here's hoping we can do just as well this time round.
ALL THE RUNNERS - IN RACECARD ORDER:
**** Likely winner; *** Each-way possibility; ** Outside chance; * No hope.
SYNCHRONISED *** Age: 9. Weight: 11st 10lb.
Bidding to become the first horse since Golden Miller in 1934 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season. The services of Tony McCoy in the saddle will be a great help once again but he's got a huge weight to carry and the worry is that this might come too soon after his Cheltenham exertions.
BALLABRIGGS *** Age:11. Weight: 11st 9lb.
Last year's winner who has been laid-out for the race once again. All looks set for another prominent showing, but the 9lb extra he has to lump round this time is likely to make the difference between winning and being placed.
WEIRD AL ** Age: 9. Weight 11st 8lb.
A quality performer on his day, all his best chase form however has come in small fields and he performed absymally last time out in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
NEPTUNE COLLONGES *** Age:11. Weight: 11st 7lb.
Likeable veteran with bags of stamina who stayed on well to finish second in Haydock's Grand National trial on his last run. Could put in a very bold show if taking to the Aintree fences, but could do with carrying a bit less weight.
CALGARY BAY ** Age: 9. Weight: 11st 6lb.
Has been in good form since the turn of the year, but fell early on in last year's race and there's questions marks over his stamina for this marathon trip too.
ALFA BEAT ** Age: 8. Weight :11st 5lb.
Did win the Kerry National for the second year running in September but has failed to complete in his last two starts and fell on his only previous run over the National fences.
PLANET OF SOUND *** Age: 10. Weight: 11st 5lb.
A classy performer on his day, he's got the ability to win if he takes to the big fences, but may have just a bit too much weight.
BLACK APALACHI *** Age: 13. Weight: 11st 3lb.
Has some cracking course form, having finished second in the 2010 National and won the Becher Chase in 2008. No horse of his advanced age has won since 1923, but he could well finish in the frame at big odds and looks worth an each-way bet.
DEEP PURPLE ** Age 11. Weight: 11st 3lb.
Won the London National over 3m 5f at Sandown in December so stamina shouldn't be a problem but he's failed to complete in three of his last nine starts and a crashing fall at Kempton last time out is not the ideal preparation.
JUNIOR **** Age: 9. Weight: 11st 2lb.
Certainly has the quality to win, having already won at the Cheltenham Festival and on the Flat at Royal Ascot. Much will depend on how he takes to the fences on his first run over the National course. If he does get into a good rhythm, he'll have every chance.
CHICAGO GREY *** Age 10. Weight: 10st 13lb.
Trainer has won the race before (in 2007) and the grey has been aimed at this race for over a year now, since winning the 4m race at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011. Could have a big chance, though he was disappointing when favourite for the Scottish National last year.
TATENEN * Age: 8. Weight: 10st 13lb.
Never won over 3m or further so there's a major question mark over stamina and the percentage call is to oppose.
ACCORDING TO PETE *** Age: 11. Weight: 10st 12lb.
Has come right back to form this season, notching his first wins since 2008, but unless the heavens open, the ground on Saturday may not be quite soft enough for this mudlark to perform to his optimum.
SEABASS *** Age: 9. Weight: 10st 12lb.
Irish raider who has won his last seven races. Piloted by trainer's daughter Katie Walsh, who bids to become the first ever female jockey to win the race. Not without a chance (his trainer won the race in 2000), but has stamina to prove over the marathon trip as his only wins over 3m have come in Point-to-Points.
SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM ** Age: 8. Weight :10st 12lb.
Has completed over the National fences before but may be better with another year's experience under his belt (eight-year-olds have produced only one winner from 68 runners in the past decade) and trainer Nicky Henderson's poor record in the race is another negative.
WEST END ROCKER **** Age: 10. Weight: 10st 12lbs.
Unlucky to be brought down in last year's race at Becher's Brook on the first circuit, he then went on to record an impressive win over the National fences in the Becher Chase in December. Has a nice racing weight and is one of the likelier winners.
ON HIS OWN *** Age: 8. Weight: 10st 11lb.
The choice of top jockey Ruby Walsh, whose record in the race is second to none. Easy winner last time out over 3m and has definite possibilities of making the frame if he can put in a clear round.
ALWAYS RIGHT *** Age 10. Weight: 10st 10lb.
Came third in last year's Scottish National so there should be no stamina concerns. Pulled up on his last two starts but has had a soft palate operation since then and if that has the desired effect he could belie his odds.
CAPPA BLEU **** Age: 10. Weight: 10st 10lb.
Former top-class point-to-pointer who has been in good form this season, finishing third in the Welsh National. Has the touch of class that's needed for a Grand National winner nowadays and could make a bold attempt to provide Wales with its first winner of the race since 1905.
RARE BOB *** Age: 10. Weight: 10st 9lb.
Was a staying-on third in the Irish National three years ago and does have experience of the Aintree fences so could be one of the better outsiders.
ORGANISEDCONFUSION ** Age: 7. Weight: 10st 8lb.
Last year's Irish National winner is clearly a useful tool, but no seven-year-old has won the race since 1940 and none have even been placed in the past ten years.
TREACLE **** Age: 11. Weight: 10st 8lb.
Irish raider who has been quite well backed in recent weeks. He's been racing mainly over 3m in Ireland and staying on well at the finish and was also staying on when upped to 3m 6f, so stamina shouldn't be an issue. If he takes to the fences, he could prove to be a sweet bet.
THE MIDNIGHT CLUB *** Age: 11. Weight: 10st 8lb.
Sent off favourite for the race last year, and after making mistakes managed to stay on at the death to finish sixth. His previous course form makes him hard to dismiss but will need to jump better this year to run into contention.
MON MOME ** Age: 12. Weight: 10st 8lb.
Sprang a 100-1 shock when winning the race three years ago, but fell a year later and has been badly out of form in his last three runs. It wouldn't be the greatest surprise to see him run a big race back at the scene of his most famous triumph, but the percentage call must be to oppose.
ARBOR SUPREME * Age: 10. Weight 10st 8lb.
Unseated at the Chair in 2010 and was well behind when falling three fences out last year. Little to suggest from his performances this term that it's likely to be third time lucky.
SUNNYHILLBOY *** Age: 9. Weight: 10st 8lb.
A staying-on third in last year's Irish National, he was a very impressive winner at the Cheltenham Festival on his last start. He won on his only start at Aintree (not over the National fences) and if this sometimes sketchy jumper can put in a clear round, he could go close.
KILLYGLEN **** Age: 10. Weight: 10st 4lb. (Pictured)
Was just getting back into contention in last year‘s race and vying for third when he fell four fences from home. He's had a wind operation since then and has been in better form than 12 months ago, so all in place for a big run.
QUISCOVER FONTAINE *** Age: 8. Weight: 10st 4lb.
The furthest he has won over is 2m 4f but he was a staying-on fourth when upped to a marathon trip in last year's Irish National. Hasn‘t run over fences since then so his handicap mark has been protected and could be something of a dark horse.
THARAWAAT * Age: 7. Weight: 10st 4lb.
Seven-year-olds have a terrible record in the race (no win since 1940) and it's hard to see this one ending the sequence.
BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE ** Age: 9. Weight: 10st 3lb.
Fell at the second fence 12 months ago, and although he ran well behind Sunnyhillboy at the Cheltenham Festival on his last start, the fact that he's had three falls in his 11 chase starts to date is rather off-putting.
STATE OF PLAY *** Age: 12. Weight: 10st 3lb.
Has finished fourth, third and fourth in the last three runnings of the race, and is 2lb lower in the weights than 12 months ago. His trainer reports him to have been working very well at home and so he looks a cracking each-way bet to at least make the frame again.
SWING BILL ** Age: 11. Weight: 10st 3lb.
Finished fifth over the National fences in last year's Topham, run over a shorter distance, but pulled up in the Becher Chase in December and although he could go well for a long way, others are more appealing.
POSTMASTER * Age 10. Weight: 10st 2lb.
Fell at the first fence on his only previous run over the National fences and all his wins have come at lower-grade tracks. Unlikely to be delivering a victory to his supporters.
GILES CROSS *** Age 10. Weight: 10st 1lb.
Ultra-consistent stayer who has finished in the first three in eight of his last nine starts and has very good form in the top staying chases. Definite possibilities, but his chances would be greatly enhanced by further rain.
MIDNIGHT HAZE * Age:10. Weight: 10st.
Seems at his best at lower-grade sharp right-handed tracks like Ludlow and is likely to be out of his depth on Saturday.
VIC VENTURI ** Age: 12. Weight: 10st.
Had bad luck in the last two Nationals when brought down and badly hampered, but has won over the National fences in 2009 and if he does get better luck in running this time, he could belie his long odds.
IN COMPLIANCE * Age: 12. Weight: 10st.
Finished a remote thirteenth last year when he didn't appear to stay, and although he is likely to complete again, its hard to see him faring much better.
VIKING BLOND * Age: 7. Weight: 10st.
There‘s probably more chance of a Viking invasion of Britain on Saturday than this inexperienced seven-year-old novice prevailing.
HELLO BUD * Age 14. Weight: 10st.
Has run well in the race before but at the age of 14, his best chance has surely gone.
NEPTUNE EQUESTER * Age: 9. Weight: 10st.
Won at Haydock in November but badly off form since and would be an unlikely winner.