It is the most prestigious, most talked about and most bet upon race in the National Hunt calendar, and this year’s Grand National story is jam-packed with intriguing sub-plots. Will Many Clouds become the first horse since Red Rum to retain their crown? Will Leighton Aspell ride his way into the record books as the first jockey in history to win this famous race three years in a row?
On 9th April, the 600 million or so people watching worldwide will find out as the horse racing community descends on Aintree. Forty horses will take to the track in an attempt to navigate their way around the four-mile stretch and secure victory in horse racing’s most gruelling contest.
Only five winners in more than 250 years of Grand National action have defended their crown successfully, and so naturally the history books – if not the bookmakers themselves – suggest that Many Clouds has little chance of taking the tape in this one.
But the favourite has many things in his favour. A respected long-distance powerhouse, it's noticeable that Many Clouds improves substantially when competing in longer stretches. This is a horse that relishes heavier going too; six of his ten wins have been on softer ground. With that in mind, you could make a case that Aspell holds all the aces here.
With a rich pedigree of success in prestigious outings – the nine-year-old has tasted victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Cotswold Chase alongside that National triumph – there is a feeling on the betting floor that history could well be re-written on 9th April. Hence Many Clouds’ ante-post favouritism of 8/1 with the likes of William Hill Sports.
As is Grand National tradition, Many Clouds will have to overcome 39 other competitors as well as the Aintree course’s myriad of fearsome obstacles, including The Chair, Canal Turn and the haunting Becher’s Brook.
Of the competition, it's Silviniaco Conti who has caught the eye of punters and bookmakers alike. Available at 12/1 with William Hill Sports, this Paul Nicholls trained gelding will turn 11 the day after the Grand National, making him one of the elder statesmen among the field. But an eye-catching victory at Ascot in February against a competitive field has left many feeling that there might be life in the old horse yet.
A couple of blemishes on his record, including a pull-up in the revered King George VI Chase in December, may be enough to put off some punters, but a pair of wins secured in Aintree’s unique conditions suggest this Grand National debutant could be in the running come the business end.
The National throws up some interesting propositions for those with a penchant for a flutter because the field is wide open; indeed, only five favourites in the past two decades have taken the spoils. Some quick calculations reveal that the average price of the winner is around the 32/1 mark, so punters have a real opportunity here to successfully back a huge-value selection – if they can pick out a winner.
Of the contenders in and around that kind of price, it is perhaps Sir Des Champs at 40/1 with Coral Sports that looks like the smartest investment. He's trained by the golden boy of National Hunt racing, Willie Mullins, and returned to action with a win in November following a near 24-month absence. All in all, the ten-year-old has finished in the top two in 12 of his 17 starts; that is the kind of record that most punters will be looking for.
For a flutter on the Grand National, visit William Hill Sports today!
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