Grand National & Aintree Festival Betting Tips – 6th, 7th & 8th April 2017

As popular as the Cheltenham Festival, the Derby Meeting and Royal Ascot are, there is one event on the horse racing calendar which puts them all in the shade when it comes to being engraved into the British psyche. The Aintree Grand National is not only the biggest horse race of the year, it is one of the most significant events across any sport. Now deeply rooted in British culture, the chances are that you, your Gran, her cat and indeed almost everyone you know will be having a flutter on this one.

It really is no wonder that this race has attracted so much attention, as it, more than any other, is a contest built for drama. The marathon trip of 4m2 ½f is the stage upon which the action takes place, with the unique fences being as much a part of the cast of characters as the horses themselves.

From the tricky drop landing of Becher’s Brook, to the sharp left switch after Canal Turn and the imposing Chair, these obstacles have become ingrained in British racing folklore, and whilst they have been made a little easier over the years, they still present a jumping challenge unlike any other.

For most though, the enduring memories of the race do concern the horses themselves. We have, of course, the legendary three time winner Red Rum. Then there is the story of Aldaniti and Bob Champion that was so heart-warming they made a movie out of it. Who can forget the implosion of Royal horse Devon Loch in 1956? And then we also have the story of AP McCoy finally, finally landing the big one aboard Don’t Push It.

Everyone has their favourite memory of the race, and no doubt there are plenty of incredible tales still to be told, starting this year. Here we take a look at the big race and three of the other feature contests across this marvellous Merseyside meeting.

Grand National Steeple Chase

  • Time & date – 5:15pm, Saturday 14th April
  • Grade & distance – Grade 3, 4m 2½f
  • Betting tip – Anibale Fly each way (12/1 at Coral)

Historically horses burdened with more than 11st 6lbs have tended to struggle in this war of attrition. Even anything over 11st tends to be too much but there have of course been exceptions. Bidding to defy the stats this year is top weight Minella Rocco. Runner up in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, he undoubtedly possesses the class to take a hand. We can also be confident he stays the trip well having beaten no less a horse than Native River in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in 2016. His current form is however a question mark, having yet to get anywhere near his peak this season. Having skipped the Gold Cup this year he will be a relatively fresh horse though and any drying of the ground will be in his favour.

We do have Gold Cup form from this season coming to the table though in the shape of Anibale Fly who was an impressive third in the big one in March. Going in the same JP McManus colours as Minella Rocco, the manner in which this one finished his race off that day certainly bodes well for this step up in trip.

He did get left behind early by the relentless pace set by Native River and Might Bite, but it is stamina which wins the day here more often than not and this one was making up ground on the first two all the way to the line. Indeed, in another furlong or so he may well have been in front. With the weights for the National having been announced before that run, this one is well in on the handicap to the tune of 9lbs and that could be crucial.

Man of the moment Gordon Elliott has five entered at present, but the two to concentrate on appear to be Ucello Conti and Tiger Roll. Ucello Conti has the advantage of course experience having run in two Nationals and also finished a good fourth in a Becher Chase. Sixth in the 2016 renewal, he looked all set to do at least as well 12 months ago until unfortunately stumbling and unseating at Becher’s second time around. 2lbs lower this year he looks solid to run a good race.

Tiger Roll will be having his first crack at these obstacles, but has proven so versatile in his career to date that it would be no surprise should he take to them. A Cheltenham winner from 2m to 4m, he has class and stamina on his side. One of the horses who might go off favourite on the day, we suspect the odds may just be a shade short though.

One horse who ticks the course form box perhaps more than any other is the Nigel Twiston-Davies representative, Blaklion. It certainly wasn’t the fences that beat him in this race 12 months ago, as he looked to be cantering approaching the run in having jumped like a dream throughout. The petrol tank quickly emptied that day though as he faded into fourth.

Connections remain adamant that he simply went for home too soon that day, and will fare better if held on to for longer. It’s hard to be too confident about that as there’s no real hiding place at the end of 4m+ around here, but he did at least rubberstamp his liking for these fences when running right away with the Becher Chase here in December.

We haven’t had a female winning jockey as yet in the Grand National, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock were that to change in 2018. Bryony Frost takes the ride aboard Milansbar for Neil King, and if she is able to squeeze out a similar display as the pair’s front running romp in the Betfred Classic at Warwick, then this one must boast sound claims. A solid second in the Midlands National last time with Jack Andrews in the saddle, Bryony gets the leg up again for the big one and looks to be in for a good spin around at least.

Whilst we are yet to have a female winning rider, we have had plenty of female trainers take this. The name of Sue Smith may be added to that list this year as in I Just Know she looks to have an ideal sort on her hands. Stepped up to 3m6f for the first time at Catterick two starts back, this eight year old responded with a 15 length pillar to post demolition job, looking better the further he went. The subsequent hike in the ratings he received was enough to ensure his mark would get him in here, and Smith seems to have gone out of her way to protect that rating having given him just the one outing over hurdles since. Eight year olds have won two of the last three Nationals too, so don’t let his relatively tender years put you off.

Ultimately there are any number in with chances here, with the old boy Saint Are another not to be forgotten about having finished second and third here in the past. It’s Anibale Fly for us here though. This is a handicap after all and a 9lb advantage at the weights is not to be sniffed at. High class and looking likely to see this out, he looks a solid each way option at a decent price, especially with many bookies paying enhanced each way places.

Other Major Races at the Festival

Outside of the big race, there’s three days of top jumps action across the festival. Below are our picks of the supporting races.

Aintree Hurdle

  • Time & date – 3:25pm, Thursday 12th April
  • Grade & distance – Grade 1, 2m 4f
  • Betting tip – My Tent Or Yours each way (9/2 at Bet365)

Its not all about the big fences at Aintree and one of the highlights on the opening day takes place over the smaller obstacles in this classy Grade 1 affair.

Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae heads the betting following his second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. This one has certainly given it a good go over three miles, with his three runs at that trip resulting in three seconds at Grade 1 level. He drops back in distance here though, in an effort to get back into the winning groove. A winner at Grade 1 level when beating Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle this season, it is difficult to know what he actually achieved that day with “The Machine” barely a shadow of his former self these days.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ The New One bombed out in the Stayers’ Hurdle last time, when appearing not to stay. Having won this very race back in 2014 though, we do know that he stays this far. That run in the Stayers’ was the 10 year old’s only real poor run of the season and having finished third in this 12 months ago, he can be expected to go well.

Whilst The New One would be a hugely popular winner, so too would the Nicky Henderson runner, My Tent Or Yours. Now 11 years old, he has finished second in the past two editions of this, but won’t have an Annie Power or a Buveur d’Air to contend with this time around. Fresher than his two main market rivals having skipped Cheltenham, and having already mastered The New One once this season, he looks the each way bet in the race.

Melling Steeple Chase

  • Time & date – 3:25pm, Friday 13th April
  • Grade & distance – Grade 1, 2m 4f
  • Betting tip – Balko Des Flos to win (2/1 at Coral)

Willie Mullins’, Min, was too good for everything in the Champion Chase last time out, everything bar the ridiculously good Altior that is. Nicky Henderson’s monster was seven lengths ahead that day, but with 11 lengths back to the third, Min still ran a mighty race in second. That of course came over half a mile shorter than this, but having hacked up by 36 lengths – albeit in a far weaker race than this – on his only previous effort over 2m4f, the evidence would suggest that Min will stay.

Having lowered the colours of Un De Sceaux in a 2m5f soft ground Ryanair Chase, the Henry De Bromhead runner Balko Des Flos certainly does stay this far. This one had hinted that he was an improved performer this term when second to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown, but it was nevertheless a shock to see how well he did it at Cheltenham, travelling supremely well throughout before putting the race to bed in no uncertain terms.

Paul Nicholls’ Politologue looks to be the best of the rest, but having begun the season well, with three consecutive wins, including at Grade 1 level, his form seems to have taken a slight dip of late. On the plus side he has won at around this trip, and twice over further, so should see it out well enough.

Min probably has the best form in the race, and with no Altior to contend with, ought to go well. However, we just prefer Balko Des Flos who is more proven at this sort of distance and was seriously impressive at Cheltenham last time.

Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle

  • Time & date – 4:20pm, Saturday 14th April
  • Grade & distance – Grade 3, 3m ½f
  • Betting tip – Sam Spinner to win (6/4 at Ladbrokes)

If you offered jockey Joe Colliver the chance to ride this season’s Stayers’ Hurdle again, aboard Sam Spinner, no doubt you wouldn’t have to ask him twice. Setting a pedestrian pace aboard what was likely one of the strongest stayers in the field was never likely to work out well and so it proved as he was outpaced by four of his rivals on the run in. Having previously smashed The Dutchman by 17 lengths and L’Ami Serge by 2 ¾l in a Grade 1, if Colliver is able to judge this better then this one looks a worthy favourite.

Having looked a stayer of immense potential last term, Tom George’s, The Worlds End, has undoubtedly been something of a disappointment this season. Travelling like a good thing only to come down in last season’s Albert Bartlett, he made amends when landing the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over this course and distance. Whilst only seventh in the Stayer’s Hurdle last time out, that was still by some way his best effort of the current campaign and if able to progress again he may well go close at a track he likes.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone is another for the shortlist having run a solid race in third in the Stayers’ Hurdle where he just about repeated his effort when again behind Penhill in the 2017 Albert Bartlett. He’s pretty consistent but yet to prove up to winning one of these.

Overall we like the favourite here and will be siding with Sam Spinner to get back to winning ways under a more forceful ride. The odds may appear short but he has the class to justify them and we have no concerns backing him at 6/4.

About the Meeting

There are few horse races as well known across the world as the Grand National. It’s an institution of horse racing and British sport that still attracts tens of millions of viewers each and every year.

The Grand National is always incredibly oversubscribed but there are a huge number of top quality National Hunt horses who just aren’t bred to be competitive over anything like four miles. Thankfully, there are plenty of other options during the three day Grand National Festival, which culminates with the big race itself.

Grand National

There is nothing else quite like the Grand National in all of horse racing. The Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot all have mass appeal but the amount of interest in the Grand National and the number of bets placed on the race each year is on another level.

Upon first glance, it may seem strange that the Grand National is the most popular betting race of the year despite being one of the trickiest races to predict. That, however, is the key element of its appeal. Those who make their picks through syndicates at work or because they like the name of a particular horse have almost as much chance of backing the winner of the Grand National as the most seasoned racing punter. We’ve seen short priced favourites, 100/1 shots and everything in between win the Grand National which helps to open it up far beyond the racing fraternity.

There are several reasons why the Grand National is so tough to predict. For a start, it’s run over a distance of 4 miles 514 yards. Then there are the 40 runners in the field, each of whom must successfully navigate 30 incredibly demanding fences. The qualifying criteria for the most lucrative handicap in racing (the prize fund now tops £1 million) include a minimum age of seven and a minimum official rating of 120.

Grand National Stats and Facts

Here are some stats and facts about the Grand National, and there is no end to the trivia for a race that was first run in 1839.

  • Even 100/1 Shots Can Win – To date there have been five horses who have won the Grand National with a starting price of 100/1: Tipperary Tim in 1928, Gregalach in 1929, Caughoo in 1947, Foinavon in 1967 and Mon Mome in 2009.
  • Age Is No Barrier – It was a long time ago, but way back in 1853 a 15 year old horse called Peter Simple won the Grand National. It was the second time the gelding had won the race, first victory having come in 1849.
  • Grand National Lottery – Many people suggest that betting on the Grand National is akin to playing a lottery such is its unpredictable nature, so it is perhaps appropriate that the horse who won the very first Grand National in 1839 was called Lottery.
  • Little vs Large – The lightest runner to win the Grand National was Freetrader in 1856 whose handicap was just nine stone, six pounds. Bobbyjo was the last horse to win carrying 10 stone or less (10 stone exactly for his 1999 victory). At the other end of the spectrum, four horses have won this stamina-sapping race while carrying a hefty load of 12 stone, seven pounds: Cloister (1893), Manifesto (1899), Jerry M (1912) and Poethlyn (1919). Incidentally, Poethlyn was also the shortest priced winner of the National with a starting price of just 11/4.
  • Getting Frisky – The aptly named Mr Frisk posted the fastest winning time for the Grand National when he romped home in eight minutes and 47 seconds. This compares to the comparably sluggish winning time of the inaugural victor, Lottery, in 1839 who took just under 15 minutes to complete the race.
  • Legendary Red Rum – Red Rum is the only horse to win the Grand National three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also finished in second place in 1975 and 1976 making him the undisputed king of the Grand National. His statue greets racegoers to Aintree and he is even buried at the winning post at the course. He is often cited as one of the main reasons the Grand National leapt to such public acclaim in the 1970s at a time at which its popularity was beginning to dwindle.

Grand National Festival – Best Of The Rest

The Grand National may be the star of the show but racing fans all have their favourite contests during the three days of the Grand National Festival at Aintree. There are more than 10 Grade 1s and several competitive handicaps to enjoy but the pick of the action away from the big race itself comes from the following races.

Aintree Bowl

Whereas the Grand National is the last of the big races during the Grand National Festival, the Aintree Bowl takes place early on Friday’s Grand Opening Day. Run over 3 miles 1 furlong, this steeplechase is open to horses aged five and older.

The Aintree Bowl has long been viewed as a chance for horses who either failed to win or even really compete in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to win a big, well regarded race. It’s only grown in stature in recent years thanks to a promotion to Grade 1 level in 2010. The popularity of the Aintree Bowl has also been helped no end by wins from the likes of Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti and Desert Orchid, each of whom were loved by racing fans.

Silviniaco Conti’s win in 2015 made Paul Nicholls the first trainer to win the Aintree Bowl three times. It also made Silviniaco Conti the fourth horse to win the race twice; no horse had won it three times ahead of the 2019 renewal.

Aintree Hurdle

The form of horses who won the biggest races at the Cheltenham Festival is always a major storyline coming into the Grand National Festival. That’s especially true with the Aintree Hurdle. This Grade 1 contest is run over 2 miles 4 furlongs, some 3½ furlongs longer than the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. For that reason, the Aintree Hurdle is seen as a great test of Champion Hurdle winners and since the first running of the race in 1976 we’ve seen high class horses such as Buveur d’Air, Annie Power and Istabraq complete the double in the same season.

The extra distance of the Aintree Hurdle also attracts horses who would find the pace a little too sharp in the Champion Hurdle. There are three more hurdles to be navigated at Aintree (11 in total) so the best jumpers have more chance to utilise their advantage. It’s also a valuable race with the total prize fund reaching £400,000 in 2017.

Melling Chase

The Melling Chase is another of the races at the Grand National Festival where form from Cheltenham is poured over. The leading contenders from both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase regularly do battle in the Melling Chase which is a Grade 1 contest run over 2 miles 4 furlongs.

Named after the village of Melling which is very near to Aintree, the Melling Chase is a very well regarded prize and carried with it a total prize fund of £250,000 in 2018. It’s the highest profile race of Ladies Day, the second day of the meeting, and is often a very competitive betting market.

Five horses have won the Melling Chase twice since its inaugural running in 1991. Being a shorter distance chase it tends to be won either by horses who excel at this sort of trip (think Sprinter Sacre or Voy Por Ustedes) or who are working their way up to longer races like Don Cossack who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup one year after his Melling Chase success.

Topham Chase

The Topham Chase is a Grade 3 contest run over 2 miles 5½ furlongs. The list of winners includes some quality horses but does lack a certain something compared to the other big races during the Grand National Festival. Despite that, it’s among the most popular races of the meeting.

The reason for that popularity is that the Topham Chase is one of just three races run over the same fences as the Grand National (including the Grand National itself). The trip is considerably shorter than the Grand National but the challenge provided by the fences makes this compelling viewing.

As you might expect, the best jumpers have a distinct advantage in the Topham Chase. For that reason experience has proven to be very important which is why older winners are common despite it being open to horses aged five and older. It’s also a fairly valuable race with around £70,000 being awarded to winning connections.

Other Races of Note

Any good National Hunt festival needs a solid cast of supporting races. That’s exactly what you get with the Grand National Festival thanks to a combination of well-regarded Grade level races and some unpredictable handicaps.

Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle

You’ll get no prizes for guessing that the Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle is open to novice hurdlers aged four. It’s the second race of the Grand National Festival and tends to provide great entertainment. The Grade 1 has also provided some very good winners including Apple’s Jade, Zarkandar and Al Eile.

Fox Hunters’ Chase

Along with the Grand National and the Topham Chase, the Fox Hunters’ Chase is one of just three races run over the Grand National fences. It was initially run over the same distance of the Grand National but has since been cut to 2 miles 5 furlongs. The Fox Hunters’ Chase is open to horses aged six and older and to amateur jockeys only.

Top Novices’ Hurdle

The Top Novices’ Hurdle is among the premier races for novice hurdlers of the year. Often attracting the leading horses from the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but you have to go back to Browne’s Gazette in 1984 for the last winner of both races. This Grade 1 takes place over a distance of 2 miles 110 yards so tends to be run at quite a pace, often producing some exciting finishes.

Mildmay Novices’ Chase

The Mildmay Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 contest that takes place on the course at Aintree of the same name. It’s run over 3 miles 1 furlong and is open to novice chasers aged five and older. There are 19 fences to be navigated in what is a fairly stiff test of jumping. That test is a major reason why many winners of the Mildmay go on to have even greater success.

Maghull Novices’ Chase

The Maghull Novices’ Chase is run over the minimum chasing distance of 2 miles. It takes place on the final day of the Grand National Festival and has been won by some excellent horses since first being run in 1954 such as Douvan and Sprinter Sacre. Paul Nicholls’ horses should be followed in the Maghull as he is comfortably the leading trainer with Diego Du Charmil securing his eighth win in 2018.

Liverpool Hurdle

The Liverpool Hurdle may be a dramatically different race to the Grand National but as the race that immediately precedes the big one it plays the role of warm up to the crowds at Aintree. This Grade 1 is open to horses aged four and older but tends to be won by horses aged six and nine. The 3 miles ½ furlong trip is long for a hurdle so the Liverpool Hurdle is something of a race for specialists.

History

The history of the Grand National is almost unrivalled in horse racing. It was first held all the way back in 1839 and in that time the big race itself has created some of the sport’s most legendary figures.

Red Rum’s three Grand National wins made him one of the most beloved horses in all of racing whilst his trainer, Ginger McCain, will always be fondly remembered; Foinavon’s win in 1967 when he took advantage of the carnage in front of him and Devon Loch’s capitulation have gone down in legend; and Jenny Pitman will always be remembered as the first female trainer of a Grand National winner. They are each just a small part of the legend of this race which continues to grow every year.

Over the years the importance of the Grand National Festival has increased dramatically. It is still the Grand National itself that grabs the attention of the public at large but racing fans mark the Aintree Festival in their calendar as the calibre of horses and races seems to improve every year.