HORSE RACING

THE PUNTER'S EYE: Grand National Preview Special

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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justin.kelly@iconicnews.ie

Ruby Walsh to ride Pleasant Company in Aintree Grand National

Forty runners will take to the line for the biggest steeplechase in National Hunt racing on Saturday, April 8. The mammoth 4m 2f race goes to post at the later time of 5.15pm this year, and it has attracted a stellar line-up. Former Gold Cup winner LORD WINDERMERE takes his chance, while a former World Hurdle winner MORE OF THAT is a classy entrant from Jonjo O'Neill's yard. The likes of THE LAST SAMURI and SAINT ARE, who have both placed in the race before, are back to attempt to go one better in 2017. The Punter's Eye has chosen five each-way bets against the field in the hope that the winner is among them.

This is our shortlist for the 2017 Aintree Grand National:

1. PLEASANT COMPANY (16/1)

This nine-year-old has been laid out for this and swerved Cheltenham to come straight here. He arrives on the back of a strong win in the Bobbyjo Chase in February, where he stayed on well to get the better of former Irish National winner THUNDER AND ROSES at Fairyhouse. He was also impressive last April when beating the re-opposing REGAL ENCORE in a handicap at Punchestown, and seems to come alive at this time of year. He will enjoy the test this distance requires, is a sound jumper (has never fallen), and should be bang there at the business end. Ruby Walsh chose to ride him over anything else from Willie Mullins' yard before this one became his sole hope in the race, and he's an animal that always gives his running. Aside from being pulled up once, he hasn't been out of the front four home in 14 starts since April 2013. He's a serious operator that has certainly been primed for a crack at this. 

2. DEFINITELY RED (11/1)

This horse is 10-pound well in and has some serious form to his name already. He brushed aside THE LAST SAMURI, who re-opposes today and finished second in this last year, when they met at Doncaster last month. He had 14 lengths to spare over that rival that day, and they're meeting on the same terms again, so there's no reason to think THE LAST SAMURI will reverse that form now. He did unseat in his run prior to that, but chalked up four wins throughout 2016 and comes here in red hot form. Danny Cook takes the ride on the Brian Ellison charge and could be in for the biggest win of his career on this one. 

3. RAZ DE MAREE (40/1)

One at a bigger price that makes plenty of appeal. Carrying a nice low weight, this one arrives with form against some classy rivals already in the book. He was just a length down on NATIVE RIVER in the Welsh National over Christmas, and that rival went on to claim third in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham behind SIZING JOHN in March. He geared up for this with a second in a weak event at Thurles, but that was merely a prep race for this test, and he should be sharper for it. Another bonus is that he has seen the National fences before, having run credibly to finish eighth in this race in 2014. He's certainly one that can outrun current odds with Ger Fox on his back. 

4. MEASUREOFMYDREAMS (50/1)

Another big priced Irish runner who can surprise a couple of better fancied rivals here. Jockey Donagh Meyler can cap a sensational year with a good ride in the National. This Noel Meade nine-year-old also carries a nice low weight and on the best of his form, can be conceivably brought into the reckoning. MEASUREOFMYDREAMS runs in the colours of last year's winner, RULE THE WORLD for Michael O'Leary and Gigginstown House Stud, but you do have to dig into his older form to discover his claims in this contest. He's fallen, pulled up and been tailed off twice in his four most recent efforts, but prior to that he was a useful performer. He was a fantastic third behind MINELLA ROCCO and NATIVE RIVER in the 2016 3m 7f Challenge Cup at Cheltenham, carrying level weights with those rivals over a big distance. Both of those rivals filled the places (2nd and 3rd) behind SIZING JOHN in this year's Gold Cup, representing a serious form line for this runner. Before that in February 2016, he beat NOBLE ENDEAVOUR by five lengths, and also had the re-opposing PLEASANT COMPANY behind him. The possibility of him rediscovering that form has to be taken on trust, but if he does, a weight of 10st 9lbs will be no where near enough to stop him. 

5. BLAKLION(14/1)

One of the more fancied runners, and certainly an interesting contender, having won the 2016 RSA chase at Cheltenham in style. He had quite a few of these behind him that day and prior to that race, slammed DEFINITELY RED by eight lengths. The same rival did get the better of him since in December last year, but Nigel Twiston-Davies' young pretender is a real improving sort, and has run well in defeat to the likes of VIEUX LION ROUGE (re-opposing today) and NATIVE RIVER. The ground should be no problem for him and he'll stay all day long. He's run 11 times over fences, winning three, and managing to place in four others. Consistency is crucial for a live National chance and this one, therefore, ticks plenty of the boxes. Noel Fehily is an able pilot on-board and it would be no surprise to see the Irish man coming home in front on this one. 

An each-way bet is advised on these five, but I must give an honourable mention to PERFECT CANIDATE (50/1) at a big price, THUNDER AND ROSES (33/1), TENOR NIVERNAS (40/1) and HIGHLAND LODGE (25/1). 

ELSEWHERE ON THE CARD

Aintree boasts a full card of high quality races on Saturday, April 8, and in the 14:25 race, FINIAN'S OSCAR (3/1), carrying the same colours once worn by the wonderful SIZING EUROPE, can extend his unbeaten record. He's won three times since December, and hasn't put a foot wrong as of yet. He hasn't beaten anything of the standard opposing him here, but he's won those races in a manner that suggests he is a future star. BRIO CONTI will be the main threat, but I think Colin Tizzard's charge, costing €250,000 at the sales, can back up the hype and justify the price tag by winning at odds of 3/1, which will look generous afterwards. 

POLITOLOGUE (4/1) is a nice price and can get the better of CHARBEL. CHARBEL fell when looking like he could certainly run into a place behind ALTIOR in the Arkle at Cheltenham, while POLITOLOGUE was fourth in the JLT behind YORKHILL. He came in behind TOP NOTCH, who franked the form by running well in defeat here on Thursday, while FLYING ANGEL, a winner on Thursday was two places behind POLITOLOGUE that day. CHARBEL is not to be discounted and was tipped by the Punter's Eye in the Arkle, but a fall is hardly ideal preparation for this, and the 8/11 being offered for him is far too short.