We're just a few days away from the biggest day in the racing calendar at Saturday at Aintree. With five-day declarations now confirmed, Tony Calvin tries to make sense of the 40-runner race...
To love or loathe Tiger Roll?
I'm probably in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to Tiger Roll's price of 9/25.4 for Saturday's Grand National.
All my natural instincts scream that quotes of around 4/1 and 9/2 for this 40-runner handicap are surely madness - I am loath to back at that price in a single-digit field - but the more you look at his claims, the more justified they appear.
Tiger Roll is probably in danger of becoming everybody's current second favourite horse at the very least, perhaps in spite of his owner - we probably all have another special one, for personal reasons - and that will undoubtedly have a bearing on his price on the day.
Or the price he is returned at in the ring anyway, if not on the exchange.
His longevity and versatility has already cemented his popularity among regular followers of the sport, the 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner going on to further Cheltenham Festival glory in the four-miler in 2017 and Cross-Country success in 2018 and 2019.
And, in between, he won a certain staying handicap chase in Liverpool last April, as well as a Grade 2 hurdle at Navan in February.
In short, he looks better than ever, and he looks fully capable of repeating his win in this race last year off a 9lb higher mark, albeit his margin of victory at the line was just a head from Pleasant Company and recapturing this prize is no mean feat.
He is versatile as regards ground - not that the Aintree executive will allow the race go ahead on good ground or quicker, so there will be some ease, either natural or watered - and he looks bomb-proof, especially on the jumping front these days, too.
And it is not as if he has a hard prep (or appeared to, anyway) in his Cheltenham run last month - he hacked up on the bridle in seeing off Josies Orders by 22 lengths, a hugely impressive performance even allowing for the nature of the race - so he probably also comes here a fresher horse than the likes of Gold Cup runner-up Anibale Fly, or any of the others that ran big races at the Festival.
So, while it is easy to dismiss his odds as ludicrous given the nature of the race and the inevitable slice of luck you will need to prevail, just ask yourself at what level you would be willing to lay a horse with the profile of Tiger Roll?
Well, I suppose the Betfair Exchange gives you the answer to that question, and I don't have any beef with the price of this particular Roll.
And I imagine the bookmakers will not be telling porkies for once - only joking - if the jolly rogers his 39 opponents.
I clearly wouldn't be able to live it down if I put up Gordon Elliott's 9yo at just shy of 9/2 and he didn't even hit the frame though, so the search for the selection (s) start here.
Well, actually it doesn't, as I put up two when the weights were published and neither has covered themselves in glory since, though it does at least look as though I may get a run for my money with Ultima disappointment Singlefarmpayment.
I suppose I can console myself with the fact that he didn't over-exert himself there!
Pairofbrowneyes is officially the best
Aside from Tiger Roll, there are a whole host of horses that are well-in (the handicapper would have given the favourite an extra 8lb after his Cheltenham win last month), given improved performances since the weights were published, and that has proved a route to winner-finding (on occasions, anyway) in recent years.
So that looks a fair starting point for us here.
If you want a quick guide, here is a list of those who are well-in, and the amount by which they are: Pairofbrowneyes (10lb), Tiger Roll (8lb), Anibale Fly (8lb), Rathvinden (8lb), Jury Duty (6lb), Ramses De Teillee (5lb), Vintage Clouds (5lb) and Lake View Lad (3lb).
Pairofbrowneyes is officially the best handicapped horse in the race then, having been raised 10lb by the assessor (the Irish version went for just a 9lb rise) for winning his second Leinster National last time.
That may have been a "National" but it was only over 3m and stamina is a concern for his backers, though he did go off 13/2 favourite for the 3m5f Irish version last April, only to fall at the fifth, and it was a real purler, too.
So the jury is out as to whether he will last home, but that Fairyhouse mishap was the only time he has fallen, and I certainly think his current price doesn't reflect his form claims.
Back him at 28/1 each way, six places and Non-Runner No Bet, with the Betfair Sportsbook. That is the best price, as well as the best place terms, out there at the moment.
He has some good-ground form, as well as in heavy, and a look at his sire Luso's progeny give you plenty of hope that a stamina test will suit, which is surprising given he was best at up to 1m4f on the Flat.
Luso is the "daddy" of an Irish National winner in Hear The Echo and 4m National Hunt Chase winner Chicago Grey, as well as the stable's 3m6f winner Ballytrim - and I have probably missed one or two good examples too - so I have no hesitation in putting up Pairofbrowneyes as a bet at 28/129.0 for Saturday.
His trainer Willie Mullins, who had Aintree in mind for the selection before the Naas win, also has another well-treated contender in handicap debutant Rathvinden, but he hasn't been missed in the market and currently trades as the second favourite at 12/113.0.
He certainly has strong claims, last year's winner of the Cheltenham four-miler (beating recent Uttoxeter runner-up Ms Parfois, sadly ruled out of this race on Monday morning) coming here on the back of a convincing win in the Bobbyjo on his return.
However, the price looks about right, nothing more.
Will Anibale fly?
Next up in the exchange market is Gold Cup runner-up Anibale Fly at 14.5, but he could well have a job on here conceding weight all round.
He has the class, we saw as much at Cheltenham last month, and he finished a very good fourth to Tiger Roll in this race last year.
But he must have had a very hard race in the Gold Cup and for that reason I am also against the placed horses in the Ultima, Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad, for all they clearly have a highly feasible racing weight after their improved shows at Cheltenham.
It sounds like Gordon Elliott is going to be mob-handed on Saturday, and his Jury Dury is another who could be overpriced at 30/1+ after his 6 1/2 -length defeat of Mala Beach at Down Royal just over a fortnight ago, an impressive return to action for his first outing after a break since October.
Ramses De Teillee has youth on his side as a 7yo - or against him if you are a trends groupie - and he certainly comes here with an excellent profile after runner-up efforts in the Welsh National and Haydock National Trial at Haydock last time.
If he does last home over this extra half a mile-plus, then this youthful grey is another that could go well at a price.
But I better park it there, as I don't want to give everything away before Saturday. Not that I have much more to add now, in truth!