The Placepot on Grand National day has a spike in difficulty at around 16:15, but looks temptingly winnable otherwise.
"If this is the future of the National, essentially the most competitive staying handicap chase of the year with the extra spice of tougher fences and extreme trip thrown in, then I think even the staunchest traditionalists would be hard-pressed to complain."
13:30 - To start off, we have an opposable favourite in the first. For all it's close between them, there's no reason to think Nichols Canyon should be ahead of Parlour Games, who appears to more reliable conveyance- good news for us. It's a competitive race, so we'll also have to include Days of Heaven, who deserves his place in this company after a convincing win over the consistent Vago Collonges last time.
14:05 - There will be risks and this is where we take one. God's Own requires respect on his best form, though he can't always be relied upon to show it. Instead take Traffic Fluide, who has been irrepressibly progressive for Gary Moore and deserves this step up in grade. His jumping also looks an asset.
14:50 - This is another banker opportunity, with three solid sorts at the head of the betting. As the quirkiest and shortest-priced of the three, we can turf out Zarkandar straight away. With his greater freshness and C&D form (won this last year), Whisper just edges out Cole Harden to be the selection.
15:25 - This isn't all that competitive for the grade, so we can be confident in Buywise making the first three should his jumping hold up. There's hope for his hard-luck story coming to an end, too, with Adam Wedge taking over from Paul Moloney. You need only look at Court Minstrel's record over hurdles to see how more judicious Wedge is compared with Moloney on hold-up horses.
16:15 - If this is the future of the National, essentially the most competitive staying handicap chase of the year with the extra spice of tougher fences and extreme trip thrown in, then I think even the staunchest traditionalists would be hard-pressed to complain. I doesn't make our Placepot any easier, mind you.
We're going to take four, plucked mostly from the 'run well but not handicapped to win' pile. Last year's first two, Pineau de Re and Balthazar King, are logically and practically top of the list in that regard. So too Unioniste, who is basically a high-class slowboat finally being given the office to show it. Finally, we'll go for Godsmejudge, who has been destined for this race for what feels a lot longer than two years since he won the Scottish equivalent.
17:10 - There's a lot of support for One For The Guv'nr, especially with him being partnered by a Gold Cup-winning jockey, but there are plenty of alternatives. Ruacana has plenty of form in similar races and, though he himself probably sits in the 'run well but not handicapped to win' pile, he should outrun his odds. Dormello Mo comes here with a 5-lb penalty for winning at Plumpton last week, which is largely offset by Sean Bowen's free 3 lb anyway. We round off with The Game Changer, who flatters to deceive off the bridle but that won't bother us should he get into the mix before then.
13:30 - 3, 10
14:05 - 6
14:50 - 8
15:25 - 2
16:15 - 3, 6, 8, 19
17:10 - 3, 4, 8
= 24 lines