Jamie Lynch's Grand National Preview: Just the jock
Timeform Chief Correspondent Jamie Lynch takes a look at the best horse-and-rider partnerships in Saturday's Grand National.
"In finishing fourth, he answered one in the affirmative and left a door open to the other, his stamina needing to be nursed a little more this time around."
Jamie Lynch on Blaklion
Using data collected by Timeform reporters, we can begin to assess the best horse-and-rider partnerships in the Grand National field of forty, in respect of each element, starting with the strongest travellers by frequency of notation (over fences since 2013), by horse and their big-race rider, making for, in theory, a match made in heaven.
UCELLO CONTI/Daryl Jacob
PLEASANT COMPANY/David Mullins
VIEUX LION ROUGE/Tom Scudamore
In only two of the above cases could the jockey be described as the 'regular rider' for the horse concerned, for Vieux Lion Rouge and Ucello Conti, though Aintree will be the first time this season that Daryl Jacob reunites with Ucello Conti, a potential positive for the horse's chance.
Despite what you might think, from the father-son connection, Sam Twiston-Davies isn't that well acquainted - at least on the track - with Blaklion, trained by Nigel, and the Grand National Trial at Haydock (where the horse wasn't himself, since when he's undergone a wind operation) was the first time since the Aintree Festival three years ago that Sam rode him in a race.
Interestingly, they also appear in the top five for jumping on the harmonised scale:
I JUST KNOW/Danny Cook
CHILDRENS LIST/Jonathan Burke
Along with Blaklion, Pendra has made both short-lists so far, but he's a fragile horse who gets to the track infrequently and what overrides the upside of the way he can travel and jump is the fact he's in the relegation places (third-bottom) in the 'finishers' league which measures response to pressure, and this is the highest-pressure race of them all.
Childrens List's lofty ranking for jumping is dubious to say the least, as he's had only four chases to judge him on, light on experience for a race of this nature, but Jonathan Burke is in the top half for fencing amongst this year's National riders, and he's already on the board at the meeting, steering Bentelimar to success (over conventional fences) on Thursday.
Danny Cook is as high as fifth - behind only Harry Skelton, Harry Cobden, Bryony Frost and Daryl Jacob (another nod towards Ucello Conti) - for being able to generate a good round of jumping, and, together, he and I Just Know have only once finished out of the first two in chases (the horse suffered a twisted shoe on the other occasion).
That surface statistic, of the pair being right there at the end of races, reflecting the strength of spirit and stamina of both, explains why the combination of I Just Know and Danny Cook are also in the top five in the responsive rate:
THE LAST SAMURI/David Bass
ANIBALE FLY/Barry Geraghty
HOUBLON DES OBEAUX/Charlie Deutsch
I JUST KNOW/Danny Cook
Things are looking up for I Just Know relishing the unique test of the National, a course with famous fences that he's never tried before, whereas three of the other four above horses have. Barry Geraghty has won one National (Monty's Pass in 2003) and been placed in four others, making him, in theory, a good fit for a National virgin, like Sherpa Tenzing to Anibale Fly's Edmund Hillary.
Anibale Fly doesn't score so highly for travelling nor jumping, but he's a better responder than the St John Ambulance on his day, seen vividly with his staying-on third in the Gold Cup, a performance which marks him out from the National crowd, and what he's done at the end of certain races - the Gold Cup included - suggests he has it in him to climb this steepest of summits.
That's the three core elements individually, but the Grand National is akin to a cocktail in that the secret is in the mix, and here's how the table of runners look when all the data is drawn together for the comprehensive view and clue as to who may be best equipped to deal with the Aintree assault course:
After an overwhelming response, Anibale Fly and Barry Geraghty pushed themselves into the top five, along with two pairings who weren't high up in any of the mini-leagues but are above-average in all three, Chase The Spud (Paddy Brennan) and Warriors Tale (Sean Bowen) seemingly blessed with the sort of mix that could put them in the mix.
One ingredient that can't be measured is preparation, and Seeyouatmidnight's has been rushed in order to get him here, but a third in the Scottish National (not under the excellent Brian Hughes) in his younger days goes a long way to confirming what the stats are suggesting: that he's cut out for this sort of test.
You could say that Blaklion's build-up hasn't been great, either, stepping off his worst run for several years, but the surgery since, and his record prior, are perhaps more meaningful. Blaklion was in the dark last year, for the suitability of the marathon course. In finishing fourth, he answered one in the affirmative and left a door open to the other, his stamina needing to be nursed a little more this time around.
If his response score can be brought in line with his metrics for travelling and jumping, then Blaklion really is the perfect National horse. That's the pseudo-scientific conclusion, but racing doesn't work like that, and the only convention for the Grand National is its unconventionality. It's a funny old game, to borrow a footballing cliché.