Will Tiger roll over?
Those of us who fell in love with the Grand National at an impressionable age in the 'seventies, did so primarily because of Red Rum (and Crisp). 'Rummy' was the villain of the piece in 1973, denying the gallant trailblazer Crisp in the dying strides, but he came back to win again the following year and scored a unique third victory in 1977, after being second twice in the interim. Four decades of horses trying and failing to gain a second National win, never mind a third, since those heady days have underlined just what a one-off Red Rum was, never putting a foot wrong over those daunting Aintree fences.
Is it possible, that in Tiger Roll, the Grand National has found a 21st Century Rummy? There is something of a similar background, both bred for the Flat and starting their career much earlier than a conventional top staying chaser. Tiger Roll already had three Cheltenham Festival wins to his name before he won last year's National at the age of eight. He has since added a fourth, producing a sparkling performance in landing the Festival cross-country for the second time. Tiger Roll has a mark 9lb higher than last year, but he was value for more than the winning margin that day and he is young enough still to have more to offer.
The current price is the most obvious negative - he's set to be the shortest-priced National favourite in a century. And despite his similarities to Red Rum, the difficulty of winning this race twice is probably not sufficiently factored in. Having had the chance to shine over this unique course, the handicapper has had a chance to reassess Tiger Roll's chance, whereas there are plenty of others who come here in good form who have yet to have a go - there is usually one of those who finds the improvement to deny those that have been before. This is a harder race than it was in Red Rum's day, when plenty of the field were make-weights, a clear factor in why there hasn't been a dual winner since. This century Hedgehunter, Comply Or Die and Don't Push It have run really well to make the frame after their win; winners with good claims like Many Clouds and Ballabriggs have also come up short.
Company - third time lucky?
Hedegehunter is unusual among the winners in recent times, in that he had run in a Grand National before he won it. His stable, that of Willie Mullins, almost repeated the feat last April, Pleasant Company denied by a diminishing head after finishing ninth in 2017. Pleasant Company was given a very light campaign prior to last year's race and it has been the same this time round. He was rusty in a spin over hurdles at Christmas, but shaped much better, though ultimately well beaten in the Thyestes at Gowran in January. He's likely to make another bold show, but the margin behind Tiger Roll flattered him last year and the remarks about the handicapper having had the chance to reassess him apply perhaps even more to him than they do to Tiger Roll.
Fly - wide of the mark again?
Last year's fourth Anibale Fly is also back for another go. He was better than the result on that occasion, the wide route taken not to his advantage. He's had a quiet campaign, with two runs over inadequate trips before the weights were published and then finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a place better than he had managed at the Festival the year before. There was an element of picking up the pieces behind Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham, but that was the case in 2018 too. However, Anibale Fly isn't so assured a jumper as either Tiger Roll or Pleasant Company and whether he will take so well to the circuit a second time is a concern. It may also be that his rider will employ similar tactics to last year, which would be a negative.
Rathvinden - is he as good as he looked last time?
Tiger Roll's second Festival win came in the National Hunt Chase, a good contest to have on the cv for any prospective winner of one of the big Nationals. Rathvinden, currently second in the market, gained his biggest win to date in the 2018 running, beating Ms Parfois in a really gruelling race. Rathvinden showed abundant stamina that day, so the National test shouldn't be a problem, and he's potentially the best handicapped horse in the race, having won the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse after the weights were published. The form of that race, though, is quite tricky to weigh up and it may be that it isn't quite so good as it looks. Whether his jumping will be suited by the demands of the National fences is another concern.
Clouds and Lad head British challenge
The leading British-trained hopes, Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad both ran with credit in the Ultima Handicap at Cheltenham. Vintage Clouds has an excellent profile for the National, having been second in a Scottish National and fourth in a Welsh one. However, he can be a bit of a grinder and that may not allow him to shine so well in this race. Lake View Lad makes more appeal, even though he was behind Vintage Clouds at Cheltenham. He impressed with the way he jumped and travelled, but just got caught a bit flat footed after three out before rallying really well. He could progress again, tried over four miles plus for the first time.
However, a horse that pulled up in the Ultima is of definite interest at a much bigger price and that is General Principle55.054/1. One of 13 intended runners for Betfair Ambassador Gordon Elliott, General Principle has an Irish National win to his name and ran really well behind Dounikos at Punchestown on his penultimate start. He was still tanking along when he belted the penultimate ditch in the Ultima, no coming back from that. His jumping generally is pretty sound and he should be able to get into a good rhythm round Aintree, given his usual style. Take General Principle rather than Tiger Roll to tighten the Gigginstown grip on jumping's greatest race.