The greatest race of them all is at Aintree on Saturday and Tony Keenan has looked ahead to the Grand National along with the meeting as a whole...
"Anibale Fly has plenty to recommend him overall; he improved markedly for the step up in trip last time suggesting this marathon distance may be within his stamina limits, seems best in spring and is officially well-in."
The National is not the race it was and whatever your thoughts about the pros and cons of the new version, finding the winner now needs a slightly different approach. Where once it was all about looking for the older but well-treated horse with back class (think Neptune Collonges or Don't Push It), recent winners have been more upwardly-mobile types like Many Clouds and One For Arthur, just the sort of unexposed types one might typically focus on in other staying handicap chases.
With that sort of progressive runner in mind, one is naturally drawn to the pair of Irish-trained horses at the top of the market, Total Recall and Anibale Fly, with preference for the latter. Anibale Fly looked to be travelling the better of the two when Total Recall fell in the Gold Cup and has plenty to recommend him overall; he improved markedly for the step up in trip last time suggesting this marathon distance may be within his stamina limits, seems best in spring and is officially well-in. Part of a very strong crop of staying novice chasers last season, he looks like a typical winner of 'the new National' and appeals as the pick of the front end of the market.
Of those at bigger odds, Gas Line Boy and Baie Des Isles are worth supporting, although small; this is the Grand National after all! Gas Line Boy looks made for the extra-places offers that are already everywhere for the big race though as a Dustin Johnson backer in the Masters, sometimes there are never enough places. Proven at the course, Gas Line Boy did well to win the Sefton having been hampered by a faller, comes into the race in form and seems likely to run his race. 33/1 with the Sportsbook is decent each-way.
Baie Des Isles would be one for narrative backers, trained and ridden by a husband-wife combo from a small yard along with being so grey she is almost white, but there is a form case for her too. The form of her Punchestown trial third worked out well at Fairyhouse and appeals as the sort of safe jumper that should take to these fences. Stamina is unlikely to be an issue judging on previous form and the rain - there is somewhere between 20 and 30 millimetres forecast between now and Saturday - is all in her favour.
This being the Grand National there are many others with chances. Blaklion was almost certainly in front too soon last year but that does raise a stamina doubt while he is higher in the weights. The Last Samuri too is up there in the weights but ran well in the Cheltenham Cross-Country with this likely the main aim. Tiger Roll won that race and is thriving while Captain Redbeard has been in great form all season and is an interesting outsider.
The Rest of the Meeting: Balko and Spinner two to focus on
The great thing about the National is that if a horse is in the top 40, we basically know it is running; no one is passing up the opportunity to run in the great race. Unfortunately, there is no such clarity with the rest of the meeting. Both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have given the fixture a wide berth as they did last year when they had just eight combined runners over the three days and there was no Irish-trained winner for the first time since 2010. The suspicion is that Jessica Harrington and Henry De Bromhead will have plenty of runners however in a bid to avoid the 'Big Two' at Punchestown with the likes of Supasundae, Petit Mouchoir and Balko Des Flos all entered.
It is the last-named that is most interesting though it is unclear where he will run; perhaps connections will go the Melling Chase route after the defection of Altior. In any case, his Ryanair win seems to be underrated with some taking the view the race fell apart; that is one way of looking at it but the time was good, Un De Sceaux has won since and there is the possibility of more to come as that was a career-best on ground that wasn't ideal. Min does not seem a horse that will be suited by two-and-a-half miles with how he races and nor is Politologue a star. Even if he does go for the Bowl then he would be an appealing without Might Bite option as Bristol De Mai looks a weak second favourite; he may be fresh now and off a breathing operation but that is different to being fully-tuned early in the season.
Nicky Henderson could boss the meeting even in the absence of Altior and Buveur D'Air; he has a lot of moving pieces among the novices. Terrefort could stay a two-and-a-half miles or go up in trip while he may be tempted by the Maghull with Brain Power now that Footpad is out with the Manifesto having been the original plan. There is confusion amongst the juveniles too with the possibility We Have A Dream and Apple's Shakira will be kept apart.
One of the joys of smaller yards is that you know that is a horse is likely to run in the race that it should and there are few doubts around the participation of Sam Spinner in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle. I subscribe to the general view that he was not ridden forcefully enough at Cheltenham and while there is a slight concern the jockey might overcompensate now, similar prices to what he was sent off last time in a race where there is likely to be no meaningful Irish opposition are fair.
Back Anibale Fly @ [13.0], Gas Line Boy @ [38.0] and Baie Des Isles @ [40.0] in the Grand National.
Back Balko Des Flos wherever he runs
Back Sam Spinner @ [3.0] in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle.