Published 16:28 9/4
Love it, or not, the Grand National is unavoidable if you are a racing fan. People you have not met in years suddenly emerge out of the woodwork to ask you for a tip. It has happened to me already this time around, with the result that my excuses are well polished.
The fact of the matter is that I had a lot of beginner’s luck in the race in the 1980s and 1990s but am staring at a 20-plus years losing run as we speak. There are better races for you to invest your money in, and why is it that you only appear once every few years to ask me for a tip, anyway?!
That all said, I am giving it a go again. The Grand National is not “just another staying handicap chase these days” as some have maintained, but it is not the impenetrable lottery that I managed to fluke the winner of on a regular basis back in the day, either. Here goes.
You need ability, stamina, jumping aptitude, and, yes, a dash of luck, to win the National. At the weights, Cloth Cap has the most of the first-named, but is an obscenely short price, Any Second Now and Vieux Lion Rouge may be second and third in that respect, but have stamina to prove, and then there are a handful of possible contenders who measure up well on the class front but not necessarily on others.
Among them is DISCORAMA, a horse who seems to have been around for ages but who is just an 8-year-old. I make him quite well-handicapped, such as on his placed form at the last three Cheltenham Festivals, he stays this trip, or very nearly this trip, and has (famous last words) become a safe conveyance as time has gone by.
For good measure, he runs here after a breathing operation, which could provide the fillip needed to break a losing run that stretches back to 2018 (a mere hiccup compared to my own). Most importantly, he is a backable price, when I would have him only just into double figures.
An each-way bet is mathematically slightly better than a win-only one, and that’s before shopping around for enhanced place terms. What can possibly go wrong?! The Randox-sponsored event is due off at 5:15.
For the true racing fan, the rest of Aintree’s Saturday card is every bit as captivating, not least the latest appearance of the star that is Shishkin, in the Maghull Novices’ Chase at 3:00. He faces just four rivals, none of them likely to get him off the bridle, but racing does not always work out as you expect.
A win by a double-digit margin would do just grand, but if you want an obscenely short price then his is it. This is one for the connoisseurs.
My Drogo is the right favourite in the former, and could even be a Shishkin-like performer in the making after three wins out of three over hurdles, including over Friday’s good runner-up Do Your Job. He faces a significant rival in Ballyadam, once so highly regarded and still a 150-rated performer in my book despite three defeats. The prices look about right.
Lisnagar Oscar may be a tad over the odds in the Stayers Hurdle, given that he was back to very near his best when runner-up in the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock in February. But he took a bit of a purler at Cheltenham last time, and Paisley Park and Thyme Hill are slightly better than him to this point, though the latter missed the Festival due to a late muscle problem. For another couple of bets, I turn to the handicap hurdle at 1:45 and the Betway Handicap Chase at 4:15.
HOMETOWN BOYticks a lot of the right boxes in the former, having impressed when winning a strong race at Kempton in February in a useful time. He has his stamina to prove at this longer trip, but shapes as if it may even suit him, and I reckon he should be close to favourite in a race that is not as strong as the numbers involved suggest.
That stamina doubt is why I suggest a win-only bet rather than an each-way bet in what is a decent race for the latter overall.
Happygolucky is the one they all have to beat in the handicap chase, but he is by no means unbeatable and could go off at a pretty short price, up a couple of pounds in the handicap for an excellent second in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last time.
There are reasons to think that SPIRITOFTHEGAMES is at least as well-treated, 4 lb lower than when second in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November. The nine-year-old has been switched back to hurdles for his last two starts, and shaped pretty well in the Pertemps Final at the Festival last time, never a danger in a tactical race but making late gains.
Spiritofthegames may need some finessing – he is another on a bit of a losing streak, and he wandered in the Paddy Power – but the old ability seems to be there and there should be enough pace on here to allow him to be delivered late.
Simon's Best Bets (scale 1-5 points):
1:45 AINTREE – EFT SYSTEMS HANDICAP HURDLE
1 pt win HOMETOWN BOY (10-1 general)
4:15 AINTREE – BETWAY HANDICAP CHASE
1 pt win SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (10-1 Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power, 9-1 bet365, Betfred, Sky Bet)
5:15 AINTREE – RANDOX GRAND NATIONAL HANDICAP CHASE
0.5 pt each-way DISCORAMA (18-1 William Hill, Unibet, 16-1 & 14- general)