The crazy decision not to run Tiger Roll in today’s Randox Grand National (5:15pm, ITV) robs the biggest race in the world of some of its attraction, but it makes it easier for the 40 runners that will line up and Any Second Now is taken to give Ted Walsh a second winner in the £750,000 feature.
Two-time winner Tiger Roll was controversially taken out of the Aintree showpiece last month and he predictably tailed off in yesterday’s Betway Bowl.
Bristol De Mai tops the weights, while it seems pretty certain Trevor Hemmings’s Cloth Cap will go off favourite, as the veteran owner of Preston football club attempts a remarkable fourth win in the National.
Front running has made a massive difference to the nine-year-old, who was pretty spectacular in victories at Newbury and Kelso this season. Jonjo O’Neill’s stable star currently trades at around 4-1 for the big race.
O’Neill was one of only four trainers based in Britain to enjoy a winner at a last month’s Cheltenham Festival. The Irish dominated that event and are strong numerically in the National, while seven runners will wear the colours of famous racehorse owner JP McManus.
One of his crop, Any Second Now, has stamina concerns and there is no getting away from that. He had to defy those to win the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival two years ago but that contest is around 10 furlongs shorter than this one, so his backers will be gambling on the petrol tank not running dry.
However, there are ample positives. Walsh has a knack for prepping National horses over considerably shorter distances, perhaps to place emphasis on jumping at speed. That was the case with Papillon, who won the race for him in 2000, and Seabass, who won a Grade 2 over two miles at Naas before finishing third in the 2012 National. Any Second Now’s prep for tomorrow’s big race appears strikingly similar. He was quiet enough earlier in the season but, dropped to the minimum distance at Navan, he might well have produced a career-best performance in a 10-length Grade 2 win last time.
Runner-up Castlegrace Paddy very much boosted the form when finishing second last weekend at Fairyhouse. With six places on offer, he appeals at 10-1.
Cloth Cap should have strong claims if he can avoid being pestered up front and he jumps boldly enough for that to be the case.
He is going to race off a stone higher in future handicaps and it is exceptionally unusual for a horse to have so much in hand officially in a race as tough as this. It is highly likely nothing else has that amount to spare among the field of 40.
Burrows Saint is also interesting and ticks plenty of boxes. He will be ridden by Patrick Mullins, deputising for the injured Paul Townend for dad Willie.
Rachael Blackmore had gone 27 rides without a winner before the bumper victory of Me Too Please in yesterday’s finale at Aintree. She will be aiming to follow up her heroics at Cheltenham, where she rode six winners to be top rider, by becoming the first female jockey to win the National — and her mount Minella Times at 10-1 is a solid each-way chance.
At bigger odds, consider another McManus-owned runner in Canelo, who likes Aintree and is just five pounds higher than his mark when winning at Wetherby in December.
Johnny Ward’s top five
1. Any Second Now 11/1
Comes here in winning form
2. Cloth Cap 11/2
Could be very hard to catch and is a worthy favourite
3. Burrows Saint 8/1
Won Irish National two years ago
4. Canelo 50-1
One of the more interesting runners at a price
5. Minella Times 17-2
Looks solid for Rachael Blackmore