Grand National 2018 Ante-Post Preview: Novice crop worth a close look
The last four Grand National winners – Pineau de Re, Many Clouds, Rule The World and One For Arthur – all have something in common, which we’ll reveal later and could be useful in narrowing down a short-list for next year’s race.
First, though, the ante-post lists are generally headed by One For Arthur who’s a logical enough favourite, if not a particularly attractive betting proposition at this stage at around 20/1. At the age of eight, he’s certainly young enough to come back again and he’s an unusual National winner in that he’s still improving, having made tremendous strides already this season. It’s only recently, after all, that he’s been given the chance to show what he can do over long distances. He received a very cool ride from Derek Fox at Aintree and arguably deserved extra credit for coming from so far back in a race where nothing else managed to land a blow from the final third of the field.
Negotiating a trouble-free passage from the back in a Grand National might not always be as straightforward as his jockey made it look, but the biggest stumbling block for One For Arthur in any future National attempt is almost certainly going to be the weight he’ll be asked to carry. Red Rum was also an eight-year-old when winning his first Grand National before returning a year later to carry 12-0 to victory, but it’s significant that no National winner since – and plenty have tried – has managed to win the race again. 2015 winner Many Clouds was the last eight-year-old to be successful before One For Arthur and was strongly fancied when disappointing a year later.
This year’s runner-up Cause of Causes improved on his previous Grand National try thanks to being ridden a bit closer to the pace than usual and could be thereabouts again another time, while third-placed Saint Are, the 2015 runner-up, would be contesting his fifth National if back again in 2018 at the age of twelve.
Potentially the most interesting of the principals from this year’s race as far as next year’s National is concerned is Blaklion who must have had favourite backers counting their money when drawing clear after the third-last fence. He took really well to the fences and left the impression that he would have finished closer than fourth had he not been sent for home from so far out. However, reliable though he is, Blaklion is another who’ll be lumbered with more weight in future as he’d shown improved form after the weights for the latest National were published.
Definitly Red is another who won’t have quite the same chance at the weights in future as he did this year when having to be pulled up early in the race with a slipping saddle, while Ruby Walsh’s mount Pleasant Company shaped better than his final placing of ninth after a bad mistake six from home.
Of those in the ante-post lists who didn’t contest this year’s race, old rivals Minella Rocco and Native River are the most prominent. This pair fought out the finish of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in 2016 (a race also contested by Definitly Red and Pleasant Company) and there was even less between them when they finished placed behind Sizing John in the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup. Minella Rocco’s strong finish to snatch second at Cheltenham briefly made him ante-post favourite for this year’s National, for which he would have been well in at the weights, though his trainer Jonjo O’Neill quickly ruled out a crack at Aintree this year in favour of training him for another Gold Cup bid.
Both Minella Rocco and Native River would have plenty of weight to carry if lining up at Aintree next year, though Native River has already put up a fine weight-carrying performance to win this season’s Welsh National under 11-12. However, Native River’s owners were reportedly firmly against running him in this year’s Grand National, so whether he’d get an entry in 2018 must be in some doubt.
So, back to those last four National winners – who were all second-season chasers (even the eleven-year-old Pineau de Re who was a latecomer to chasing). If that’s a trend worth following, therefore, we need to be looking for the 2018 Grand National winner among the novices of 2016/17. There are several potential candidates, but a couple worth chancing as long-term National contenders are Mall Dini and Premier Bond.
Mall Dini’s big day so far for trainer Pat Kelly came over hurdles in the Pertemps Final at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival but the fact that he hasn’t even won a race over fences at the time of writing isn’t too much of a concern. He’s proved himself at least as good over the larger obstacles as he was over hurdles, his jumping has been sound on the whole, and for the most part he’s had inadequate tests of stamina since going chasing. It’s no coincidence that he ran his best race over fences when stepped up to three and a quarter miles in the Kim Muir at the latest Festival in which he wasn’t beaten far in fifth despite being left with plenty to do. Mall Dini will stay long distances and is by One For Arthur’s sire Milan.
Premier Bond also ran in the Kim Muir, finishing just ahead of Mall Dini in third and staying on well as though marathon trips will suit him well too. He’s been lightly campaigned by Nicky Henderson, with his only defeat in his first three starts over fences coming at the hands of his top-class stable-companion Might Bite on his chasing debut.
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