Friday, April 12, 2024

The Intelligent Punter's Guide to the 2024 Grand National


‘Just’ 34 runners will go to post this year, with the maximum field size for the great steeplechase reduced from 40 this year after a safety review.
But who’s going to win?  Despite the field reduction it looks a fascinating puzzle as always, with the last two winners both lining up plus a host of other likely contenders.  Even with 34 horses to consider it might seem a daunting task to find the winner but bearing in mind certain key trends can help us sort out the ‘possible’ from the ‘unlikelies’. The acronym ‘WAS’ always needs to be borne in mind.

1. Weight.
Horses carrying less than 11st have won eight of the last ten renewals, and with soft or heavy ground likely this year, the advantage of being towards the lower end of the weights is likely to be even more pronounced, going on the trends.

2. Age
Noble Yeats became the first seven-year-old to win in 2022 since Bogskar in 1940 and the trend in recent years- no doubt at least partly caused by the modification of the fences, has favoured younger horses. For instance between 1989 and 1994 five of the six runnings were won by horses aged 11 or 12. But no 11 year old has won now since 2014, and no 12 year old since 2004. In fact the last eight winners have all been younger than 10. That said, heavy ground on Saturday might give the ‘old guard’ more of a chance to keep up than in recent years.

3. Stamina
It might sound obvious but you’re going to need stamina to win a race over 4 miles three and half furlongs- especially if the going is testing. While horses unproven at distances in excess of 3 miles can win going-eg Minella Times in 2021- staying power is likely to be even more of an issue this year because of the going.  It’s always an asset to have good form in one of the major Nationals, like the Irish, Welsh or Scottish. And the Coral Gold Cup aka ‘The Hennessy’ is often a good trial too, last year’s winner Corach Rambler finished 4th in the 2022 race, while the 2015 Grand National hero Many Clouds won it. It’s also worth noting that the last two winners-Noble Yeats and Corach Rambler both ran in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival.

4. First timers. We can all remember horses that won the National having been placed in it before, like L’Escargot in 1975 and Hallo Dandy in ‘84, but you have to go back to 2004 and Amberleigh House for the last time that happened. Clearly since the fences have been modified previous experience of the National course is not as big an advantage as it once was. The recent trend is for horses to win the race on their first attempt, with Tiger Roll -who won it for the 2nd time in a row in 2019- the exception.
Let’s now look more closely at the 34 runners.

1.  NOBLE YEATS. Age 9. Weight 11-12. Odds: 20-1
Gave retiring amateur Sam Waley-Cohen a dream send off when running out a shock 50-1 winner of this in 2022; ran very well again to be fourth last year carrying a lot more weight; class performer with great CD form, likely to run a big race again but the trends say a place is likely to be the best he can hope for given his weight.

2. NASSALAM  7.  11-8.  22-1
Runaway winner of the Welsh National on bog-like conditions; has conditions to suit but has gone up in the weights; chances of running a big race if he gets into a good rhythm at the front but the weight could well stop him winning.

3. COKO BEACH 9. 11-8. 20-1. 
8th and pulled-up on two previous runs in the race, still has plenty of weight and although he’s usually a sound jumper and could go well for a long way he would still be a fairly unlikely winner.

4. CAPODANNO 8. 11-8. 25-1
Very useful over shorter, he didn’t appear to stay the trip last year when he was pulled up and has 3lbs more on his back on more testing going this time, so the percentage call is to oppose.

5.. I AM MAXIMUS 8. 11-6. 7-1.
Last year’s Irish National winner, has been well-backed for shrewd connections and all is in place for a big run for his maestro trainer Willie Mullins. Has to be short-listed but given his weight has the each-way value gone now in his price?

6. MINELLA INDO 11. 11-6. 14-1.
2021 Gold Cup winner so obviously has the class, well-handicapped on the best of his form but stamina is unproven for this and although you can make a case, others look more persuasive.

7 CORACH RAMBLER 10. 11-6. 6-1
Won the race last year off a mark of 146,  set to carry over a stone more this year which will obviously make things a lot harder, but would have carried even more had the weights come out after his excellent, career-best Gold Cup third, so  in that respect he’s still well-handicapped. Connections have said they wouldn’t want much more rain- if we do get a couple of drying days then his chances of a repeat would be enhanced.
8. JANADIL 10. 11-6. 100-1.
The rank outsider of the Mullins’ runners and not hard to see why; he’s yet to race beyond an extended 3 miles and has either fallen or been pulled up on three of his last eight starts, and moreover he still looks too high in the weights.

9.  STATTLER 9. 11-4. 40-1.
Has some good form in the book, but the best of it was on good-to-soft; could run well if ground dries up but still looks to have a bit too much weight.

10. MAHLER MISSION 8. 11.5 14-1
Hasn‘t had a run yet this calendar year which is a negative on the trends, but his great run in the Hennessy (2nd) in November is a positive; and he also ran very well when falling 2 out when clear in the NH Chase at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival ( the horse that won that race, went on to finish third in last year’s Grand National). If he puts in a clear round has to be a contender- and with age on his side too he definitely has to go in the box marked ‘Interesting’.

11. DELTA WORK. 8. 11.4 16-1.
X-Country specialist who was 3rd in this two years ago off a 3lbs higher mark  and unseated at the 21st while still going okay last year.  It would be quite something to win this at the third attempt (last horse to do so was Amberleigh House in 2004), but he does have plenty of stamina and there was enough in his last two runs in the race to suggest he can go well again and maybe make a place.

12.FOXY JACKS 10. 11-4. 25-1.
Won the X-Country at Cheltenham in November, stamina shouldn’t be an issue and could run well on a going day for a trainer who’s won this before, but has a career high mark of 157 to defy and hasn’t always been the safest conveyance.

13. GALVIN 10. 11-2. 35-1
Classy on his day- won the Savills beating subsequent Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard in 2021, has come down in the weights and is now on an eye-catching mark but ground may not be ideal and unseated at the first last year.

14. FAROUK D’ALENE 9. 11-1. 80-1
Another Gordon Elliot runner (he has eight in the race!); he had good novice form and he goes well on heavy ground; but two falls and one pulled up in his last five starts means despite he comes with considerable risks attached.

15. ELDORADO ALLEN 10. 11-0. 100-1
Losing run stretches back over two years now; would be unlikely winner but you could give him an each-way squeak on his staying on fourth in the Hennessy in December, as that’s often a very good trial.

16. AIN’T THAT A SHAME  10. 10-13. 50-1.
Last of the 17th finishers last year when he didn’t appear to stay, carries more weight this time because of a good win in the Thyestes in January; has never fallen and has ability but stamina looks to be the issue.

17. VANILLIER 9. 10-12. 9-1
Beaten just 2.25l by Corach Rambler in this last year, and is now 7lbs better off at the weights. Has been laid out for this all season so you have to be very sweet on  Gavin Cromwell’s grey’s chances of at least making the frame again,  the only negative is that you have to go back to Amberleigh House twenty years ago for the last horse to turn a previous place into a win.

18. MR INCREDIBLE 8. 10-11. 12-1.
The right age and having finished runner-up in the Midlands National on his last run on heavy stamina won’t be an issue; his saddled slipped and he unseated after the 25th last year; with better luck could well make the frame.

19. RUN WILD FRED 10. 10-10. 50-1.
Fancied for this in 2022 but he fell at the Canal Turn when towards the back, reasonably weighted but form figures of PBP- and the fact that he hasn’t won since 2021 doesn’t inspire confidence.

20. LATENIGHTPASS. 11. 10-10. 28-1.
Has great form over the National fences having finished 2nd, 1st and 4th in the Foxhunters, wasn’t stopping at the end of 3m5f when winning the X-Country on testing ground at Cheltenham in December, plenty to like and could be a good each-way bet at current odds.

21. MINELLA CROONER 8. 10-9. 66-1.
Pulled-up on three of his last six starts and although he’s in the right age and weight bracket, he’s never won beyond 3m and others make more appeal.

22. ADAMANTLY CHOSEN 7. 10-8. 66-1.
Stayed on well when winning over 3m2f at Down Royal last time, unexposed and has a nice weight, but after a 82-year-old wait will we get two 7-year-old winners in two years? Not entirely ruled out but stamina still to prove and others preferred.

23. MAC TOTTIE  11. 10-9. 50-1
Has already won twice over the National fences including a win in the Topham in 2022, and has won over the Mildmay fences at Aintree too so has plenty of course form but stamina on testing ground over a much longer distance is the concern as he pulled up on his only try at a marathon trip.

24. CHEMICAL ENERGY 8. 10-8. 40-1
Second in the NH Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year, so stamina shouldn’t be the issue, ticks the right age and weight boxes but hasn’t raced since September; could outperform his odds but such a long absence from the racecourse is a negative on the trends.

25. LIMERICK LACE 7. 10-8.  12-1
Won the mares’ chase at the Cheltenham Festival last time; generally very consistent (in the first three in her last nine races) and in great form this year; the concern is that her stamina is not proven for this as she’s yet to race beyond 3m and no mare has won this since 1951.

26. MEETINGOFTHEWAVES 7. 10-8. 10-1
Been well backed for this and not hard to see why- he was third in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival - a good trial for this- after the weights came out, has an ideal weight and represents a top yard; but has the value of his price now gone?

27. THE GOFFER  7. 10-8.  66-1
Has some good form in the book and has never fallen, in the right weight range but weakened to finish fifth on heavy ground in the Ultima last time and the concern is that this trip on testing ground might stretch his stamina.

28. ROI MAGE 12. 10-8. 50-1
Seventh last year and is 1lbs lower this time, has won on heavy ground and has good X-Country form in France, his age is against him on the trends as it’s 20 years ago since the last 12 year old won but he does have definite each-way appeal at his big odds and could surprise a few. 

29. GLENGOULY 8. 10-6. 66-1
Front runner who could go well for a long while; ticks the age and weight boxes but his stamina is unproven at marathon  trips so that has to be taken on trust.

30. GAILA DES LITEAUX 8. 10-6. 25-1.
Stayed on strongly at the finish to finish a close second in 3m5f Classic on soft ground at Warwick in January so should stay but not so good next time. Given a break since then, you could make an each-way case out for her if the going remains testing as she ticks the age and weight boxes.

31. PANDA BOY. 8. 10-6. 10-1.
5th in last year’s Irish National, he has been very well backed and not hard to see why: he ticks the right age and weight boxes and has been laid out for this by his trainer, who won this in 2006.

32. EKLAT DE RIRE, 10. 10-6. 100-1.
Pulled up last time at Cheltenham he’s the rank outsider of the field and despite having an ideal weight he would be an unlikely winner.

33. CHAMBARD. 12. 10-6. 66-1.
Veteran who won the Becher over the National fences in December, could go well for a long way; would be an unlikely winner; age against him on recent trends, but  trainer did land this with a 100-1 shot in 2009 so can’t be totally dismissed.

34. KITTY S LIGHT 8. 106. 11-1.
Ticks all the right age and weight boxes and moreover has great winning form in staying chases (won the Eider, Scottish National, and the Bet365 last season); would be a strong selection if only the ground was less testing.

Corach Rambler was a confident selection last year but this year’s renewal looks trickier with a whole host in with chances.
You can’t rule out Corach doing it again even carrying over a stone more as he could still be well-handicapped, but he probably needs the ground to dry out quite a bit to maximise his chances.
The chances of I Am Maximus are obvious too and Mahler Mission is very interesting but the trends suggest the winner is most likely to be a horse carrying less than 11st.  Indeed the ideal trends profile of the winner of the ‘modern‘ Grand National is a horse aged 8 or 9 (7 of the last 8 winners) carrying between 10st 3 and 10st 13lbs (8 of the last 10 winners).
The horses that fit the trends best and ticks other boxes too are Vanillier, Mr Incredible, Glengouly, Gala Des Liteaux, Panda Boy and Kittys Light. Chemical Energy ticks the age and weight boxes but his absence since September is a trends negative. Given that a 7-year-old won in 2022 we shouldn’t rule out a  horse of that age carrying the right weight like MeetingoftheWaters winning either. 
Overall, a good case can be made for several of the runners, but the shortlist has to include Vanillier, Mr Incredible, Panda Boy, and -if the ground dries up- Kittys Light and Corach Rambler, with Roi Mage, Latenightpass and Delta Work  of definite each-way interest. 


Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Intelligent Punter's Guide to the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup


Neil Clark

  It’s a hundred years since Red Splash won the first running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (see my Daily Express feature this week on the centenary). But who’s going to cause a splash by winning the 2024 renewal? 

10 go to post for jump racing’s Blue Riband, due off at 3.30pm today ( Friday). There’s plenty in with chances in the level weights affair (all the runners carry 11st 10lbs), but keeping in mind certain key trends can help us when we go through the field and sort out the probables from the possibles. 


KEY STATS: 1. Grade 1 winning form. Every winner this century had won at least one Grade 1 race. Last year Grade 1 winners filled the first three positions. 

2. Age. No horse older than 9 has won the race this century. 7 and 8 year olds have won the last seven runnings and 10 of the last 11 Gold Cups. 

3. 8 of the last 10 winners were trained in Ireland. 



 1. BRAVEMANSGAME Age: 9; Odds 11-1 Runner-up behind Galopin Des Champs last year (beaten 7l) , that’s the position he’s filled on all three of his starts this season; no reason why he should reverse the form with last year’s winner but he’s battle-hardened and consistent and could make the frame again if all goes well. 

2. CORACH RAMBLER Age; 10; 12-1 Last year’s Grand National winner- aiming to be the first horse to win the Gold Cup after National success since Golden Miller in 1935. He has won at the last two Festivals, and while he needs to improve again to take this a big run not out of the question, though would be oldest winner since Cool Dawn in ‘98. 

 3.FASTORSLOW Age 8; 6-1. Beaten a neck by Corach Rambler in last year’s Ultima, but is now 4lbs better off; has beaten last year’s winner Galopin Des Champs twice in Ireland, and although that rival got the better of him quite decisively at Leopardstown last time, he could get closer today given a stiffer test. Has to be respected. 

 4. GALOPIN DES CHAMPS Age; 8 . Evs Stayed on well to land this last year, best horse in the race on ratings and trainer Mullins has had another great festival, back-to-back wins in this aren‘t easy but Mullins did achieve it with Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020; not quite a ’banker’ in such a competitive race but clearly the one they all have to beat. 

. GENTLEMANSGAME Age 8;22-1 Comes into this under the radar as hasn’t been seen since beating Bravemansgame ( gave 6lbs) in the Charlie Hall in early November, has to improve on that but does go very well fresh and could be each-way value for a trainer (Mouse Morris), who does well with the relatively small number of darts he throws at the Cheltenham Festival dart board. 

6. GERRI COLOMBE Age 8; 8-1 Beaten 23l by Galopin Des Champs over Christmas in Ireland, but kept fresh for this since, was a close second in the 2022 RSA, and not hard to see this dual Grade 1 novice chase winner getting placed over this longer trip. 

8. JUNGLE BOOGIE Age 10; 22-1 Represents the 2021 Henry De Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore winning combo but while it’s hard to rule out anything they put out at Cheltenham this one needs to improve on what he’s shown so far to play a part. 

9. L’HOMME PRESSE Age 9; 10-1. Won the RSA in the mud in 2022, testing going plays to his strengths and any more rain would be a plus, each-way possibilities but needs to step up again to win as this is the best race he’s been in. 

10. MONKFISH Age; 10; 25-1 A dual Festival winner- in 2020 and 2021, but only had four starts since then and while he’s obviously very classy, it would be a tremendous training feat even for the maestro Mullins to get a 10-year-old to win a race as competitive as this on his first chase start for nearly three years. 

11. NASSALAM Age: 7; 35-1. A visually very impressive runaway winner of the Welsh National steps back in trip and up in class for this; the more rain that falls before the off the better; needs to improve again but not entirely dismissed if going becomes really testing. 

 12. THE REAL WHACKER Age 8; 50-1. Won the RSA at the Festival last year, culminating a fine novice campaign; not quite so good this year and needs to improve to take a hand in this, would be a surprise winner but could be overpriced from an each-way perspective if a first time visor brings him back to something like last year’s form. 

VERDICT; Reigning champ GALOPIN DES CHAMPS looks the likeliest winner as he’s the best horse in the race on ratings and form, and is not too old at 8 for a follow up, but if he does slip up or have an off day the race looks very open with a number of runners who could capitalise. Next best is probably Fastorslow. The going at Cheltenham is currently soft, but if more than the forecast rain arrives it could become heavy in patches which would enhance the chances of the likes of L’Homme Presse, Gerri Colombe and Nassalam. Gentlemansgame is under the radar and could well improve after just three starts over fences. 

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