Welcome To Aintree – Grand National” (CC BY 2.0) by Paolo Camera

The national hunt season is now getting into top gear and with that upping of the ante will come the first murmurings of potential plots to land the Grand National at Aintree in the spring.

Winning the world’s most famous steeplechase does not come easy. It requires a lot of talent, luck and good timing – but perhaps more than ever, winning the Grand National requires months of careful planning too. Here are four potential contenders for ultimate glory in the world’s most talked-about horse race come 2017.

Don Poli

Now trained by Gordon Elliott having made the move from Willie Mullins’ yard this autumn, Aintree already looks to be the most viable spring destination for Don Poli. Third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup back in March, his no-show on his first start for Elliott at Down Royal will surely scupper any plans to head back to the Cotswolds for the Blue Ribband in 2017. Bad as his reappearance was, Elliott will surely get to the bottom of that run and bring Don Poli back slowly. Never the quickest horse, he has the jumping ability and enough class to suggest that four miles around Aintree would place him in a very positive light. If he makes the race, Don Poli will be hugely popular in the betting on the Grand National.

The Druids Nephew

Neil Mulholland’s charge has already had two goes at the Grand National with vastly differing results. In 2015, he was tanking along in the lead with five to jump when coming a cropper under Aidan Coleman. Many felt that run marked him out as a contender for 2016 but, in truth, his hopes this year were all but gone before the tapes went up. The rain that arrived to turn the Aintree track heavy in places did nothing for The Druids Nephew and he was duly pulled up having never appeared comfortable. It might be worth forgiving that run if he comes back for a third tilt in 2017.


Aintree Grand National 2013” (CC BY 2.0) by stacey.cavanagh

Holywell

Jonjo O’Neill’s dual Cheltenham Festival scorer, Holywell, was tipped by many for a big run around Aintree in the 2016 Grand National. Like many, the pre-race rain would have done little to inspire his supporters on the day of the race. Richie McLernon’s mount scarcely had time to settle to his task before taking a fall at the second fence. It was not the most encouraging start to his Grand National career but at nine-years-old the gelding has time to bounce back. Aintree on decent ground would surely give Holywell a chance to redeem himself.

Carlingford Lough

It really would be a treat to see Carlingford Lough pitching up in this race in 2017. John Kiely’s charge is already a multiple Grade One-winning chaser and owner JP McManus will surely be tempted to take a punt on the Grand National as the consistent performer enters the autumn of his career. Carlingford Lough has been touted for this race in the past but typically turned up at the Cheltenham Festival instead. There are many reasons to believe the Aintree test would suit Carlingford Lough, but none more encouraging than his Irish Gold Cup success in February. Scrimmaged along by Mark Walsh a long way out, Carlingford Lough appeared to gain new life over the last, with his stamina clear for all to see at the end of three-miles in soft ground. The Aintree marathon could be just the test for him.

newcastleThe Hardwick Hall Hotel Handicap (6.15) at Newcastle on Tuesday looks competitive enough, with plenty of recent form on offer, but Jaywalker is 2-2 on synthetic surfaces and may be able to defy a 3lb rise in the weights, despite taking a slight rise in class. The Footstepsinthesand gelding showed improved form when making all to beat Soul Brother and subsequent winner Manatee Bay by half a length and the same in a 0-80 contest over course and distance three weeks ago. That performance proved his effectiveness over 6 furlongs and on the Tapeta surface. It’s too early to draw any conclusions about the draw over 6 furlongs at Newcastle, but the first three in the race he won on his last visit were draw 11, 7 and 4, so stall 4 may not hinder his chance of a repeat performance under P.J. McDonald.

Selection: Newcastle 6.15 Jaywalker (6/1 with bet365) to win

racesThe hilariously funny images, videos and tales (if I do say so myself!) aspect of the wacky races blog has taken a bit of a back seat of late it has to be said. One or two of you have pointed that out recently, but at the same time we’ve also had a few submissions by visitors and so keep a look out for those over the coming couple of weeks. If you too happen to have anything you wish to contribute (anything from stories – your own or others, or media), feel free to click the ‘Links and Contact Info’ link at the top of the wacky races site and I’ll be sure to consider your submission for a future update. Don’t be shy, people!

‘So what have you been up to lately?’ you may or may not be asking yourself. Well, actually I went to the races a few weeks back. To be honest I more often than not tend to engage in the world of racing via couch potato mode, so it makes a change for me to actually get out there and make a day of it – or three days as it happens! I have to say that the only funny aspect of the racing bonanza (aside from Derek Thompson’s Alan Partridge-esque contributions on Ladies Day) was my inability to pick a winner! Though thankfully the trip did have ‘wacky’ covered, as I went to Great Yarmouth and there’s always a fair few characters around it has to be said – on the course and off! Afterwards we went to the local casino, which is in an attractive listed building. A nice meal was had by our gang and for the most part our luck was in, so the trip was well worth it. I really should get to more race tracks, but am something of a creature of habit and this is an annual trip that we’ve been making for about ten years now! Anyway, it’s time to get to the important stuff with this week’s horse racing tip! For otther future races check here http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/9/ap/Horse+Racing.html

Another week and so another selection for you all. We like the look of this one. In the 5.50 at Kempton on Wednesday, Pike Corner Cross is 2-2 over course and distance, in this grade, and still looks feasibly weighted in his attempt to maintain his 100% record. He never threatened from a wide draw at Lingfield last month, but ran as though still in form and, off the same handicap mark, can resume winning ways over a course and distance where he has from figures of 2211. His draw, in stall 14, is higher than ideal, but he made rapid progress in the closing stages to win on his previous visit to the Sunbury-on-Thames track when drawn 12 of 12. Indeed, he’s finished strongly on all four attempts over course and distance so, hopefully, Harry Bentley – who has a 3-10 (30%) strike rate for Ed de Giles this season – can deliver him fast and late to lift the spoils.

Selection: Kempton 5.50 Pike Corner Cross to win

leicesterIn the Wreake Handicap (3.10) at Leicester on Tuesday, Can’t Change It has recorded four of his five career wins in single-figure fields and, having stayed on well to beat Banksea by three-quarters of a length in a similar race, over a mile, at Doncaster last month, can defy a 3lb rise in the weights. He has plenty of winning form over 7 furlongs, so dropping back in distance shouldn’t be a problem, especially on a testing track and, while a drop of rain wouldn’t hurt, he should run his race regardless of the weather in the East Midlands. Jamie Spencer is 2-4 on the Verglas gelding this season and 26-113 (23%) for the yard overall, so the statistics are quite encouraging, too.

Selection: Leicester 3.10 Can’t Change It to win

chelmsfordPat Cosgrave has a 44-66 (28%) strike rate overall for William Haggas this season, rising to 6-14 (43%) in the last 14 days, so his sole ride of the day for the yard on Thursday, Biologist in the 5.45 at Chelmsford, must be of interest. The daughter of Flying Childers Stakes winner Sir Prancealot started favourite on her racecourse debut at Lingfield in June, but lost 10 lengths at the start and was always tailed off. She showed a little more promise on her second start at Nottingham in July but, having suffered an interrupted passage, was eased in the closing stages, eventually finishing fifth of eight, beaten three lengths. She failed to improve on that effort when stepped up to 6 furlongs over course and distance 11 days ago and, on the face of it, has something to prove in first-time blinkers.

However, it’s far too soon to be writing her off just yet and, while William Haggas is 0-3 with juveniles at Chelmsford so far this season, Pat Cosgrave has an 11-36 (31%) strike rate on 2-year-olds for the yard in the same period, for a level stakes profit of 16.56 points. Biologist may be one of Haggas’ lesser lights, but the statistics are highly persuasive and, as the most experienced runner in the field, she warrants an interest.

Selection: Chelmsford 5.45 Biologist to win