Red Rum's position as the greatest Grand National horse seems assured for a good while yet, writes Timeform jumps handicapper Phil Turner...
Taquin Du Seuil's stable-companion Holywell (c158p) doubled up on Merseyside, though, and cemented his position as the top-rated staying novice chaser seen out so far in 2013/14 with a ten-length defeat of Don Cossack (c152) in the Grade 1 Mildmay on Friday
New sponsors Crabbies approached us recently to decide who would come out on top in a line-up of the twenty best and/or highest-profile winners in Grand National history, with Red Rum (admittedly helped by the weights allotted in this virtual contest) coming out on top from dual winner Reynoldstown, old rival L'Escargot and 2005 winner Hedgehunter. Indeed, Red Rum's record-breaking three wins seem unlikely to be matched again, whilst he remains the last horse (despite the best efforts of BHA handicapper Phil Smith!) to carry top weight to victory - a feat he achieved in both 1974 and 1977.
The final win in 1977 earned Red Rum a higher Timeform rating than that season's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Davy Lad, something which hasn't been done since - though 2012 winner Neptune Collonges came close when rated only 1 lb below that year's ill-fated Cheltenham hero Synchronised. It was clear from some way out that there wouldn't be much chance of that happening in the latest National, with most of those towards the head of weights failing to complete, whilst a higher-than-usual percentage of non-stayers also meant it wasn't the strongest renewal. That said the form amongst the principals looks strong, with each of the first three coming into the race at the top of their game following fine campaigns.
Pineau de Re (Timeform rating c151) ran out a five-length winner from the ultra-consistent Balthazar King (c154), with the prolific winning Irish chaser Double Seven (c152) a further length and a quarter away in third, that trio pulling ten lengths clear of the remainder. These represent career-best efforts for the first and third (the runner-up also matched his previous best), whilst it should be noted they are all now rated within a stone of this season's Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere (c163).
Pineau de Re has some similarities with Red Rum, given that he was a seemingly exposed gelding who's flourished since moving to an unconventional yard - the former is one of a dozen horses trained by a horseracing-mad ex-NHS doctor, whilst the latter was trained by a former taxi driver from the back of his second-hand car salesroom in Southport! Pineau de Re's revival has been all the more remarkable give his advanced age, and he'll be twelve should he return to Aintree next April in a bid to become the first back-to-back National winner since Red Rum. His shrewd trainer is reportedly keener to buck another trend before then, that of the poor wins record National winners usually suffer after their Aintree pay-day - 2002 winner Bindaree remains the last one score again under Rules since their National success (Red Rum won six times the season after his first National win!).
Winning races certainly hasn't proved a problem for Balder Succes (c158+) this season and he took his tally over fences to five wins from six completed starts with a decisive display in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices' Chase on Saturday, where he was chased home by Simply Ned (c153) and Trifolium (c154). That level of form would have seen Balder Succes go very close in the Arkle at Cheltenham - which Western Warhorse (c158) won in a photo-finish from Champagne Fever (c158p) - and he makes the most appeal of that trio with regards to making a mark in top two-mile chases next season.
Balder Succes was the third winner of the meeting for Alan King's in-form yard and its second in a Grade 1 novice chase, with Uxizandre (c154) confirming himself as one of the leading home-trained novice chasers with a very fluent display to beat Oscar Whisky (c151) in the Manifesto over two and a half miles on Thursday - the aforementioned Western Warhorse was a disappointing third.
That win, of course, provided a boost to Uxizandre's Cheltenham conqueror Taquin du Seuil (c157p), who sat out Aintree's three-day meeting. His stable-companion Holywell (c158p) doubled up on Merseyside, though, and cemented his position as the top-rated staying novice chaser seen out so far in 2013/14 with a ten-length defeat of Don Cossack (c152) in the Grade 1 Mildmay on Friday, in which RSA Chase winner O'Faolains Boy (c152) clearly failed to give his running and wilted into fifth place.
By and large, the Cheltenham form held up very well at Aintree, with the likes of Vautour (h158p) and Tiger Roll (h150p) seeing their ratings rise despite not turning up at the meeting. The Grade 2 Top Novices' Hurdle over two miles on Friday was dominated by three horses Vautour had comprehensively beaten in recent starts, notably its impressive winner Josses Hill (h149), who appeals as a very exciting novice chasing prospect for 2014/15.
The Grade 1 Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle was well represented by principals from the Triumph and Fred Winter Hurdles at Cheltenham, with Triumph runner-up Guitar Pete (h144) swooping late under Paul Carberry to beat Tiger Roll's understudy Clarcam (h142) by a length and three-quarters, with a further two-and-a-half lengths back to Calipto (h141+) - the performance of the last-named suggesting he wouldn't have won the Triumph even without his significant tack problems that day.
Arguably the most promising novice hurdler seen out over the three days, however, was Beat That (h153p), who has made rapid strides in just three starts this season and looked a fine staying prospect when winning the Grade 1 Sefton on Friday. If anything, chasing promises to bring out even better in him, with similar comments applying to the next two home Cole Harden (h149) and Seeyouatmidnight (h148) - indeed, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise to see any of this trio plying their trade over the National fences in years to come.