Grand National 2016 Preview

Many Clouds is favourite to win the Aintree Grand National for a second successive season when he lines up on April 9th.

Aintree Grand National

Many Clouds bids to emulate Red Rum at Aintree

Oliver Sherwood’s nine-year-old only ran in the race on the insistence of owner Trevor Hemmings last year following a disappointing run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Racing off a mark of 160, he ran on gamely to hold off Saint Are by a length and three-quarters at odds of 25-1.

Many Clouds and Leighton Aspell on their way to a clear-cut victory in Betbright Cup at Cheltenham

His entire campaign has been geared to a repeat victory this season. He needed the run at Wetherby in October before chasing home Don Poli at Aintree in December. He was then beaten 12 lengths by Smad Place at Cheltenham in heavy ground in January before completing his preparation with an easy victory at Kelso.

Although only 5lbs higher this year, he will still have to carry top weight of 11st 10lbs. The last horse to win the Grand National in successive seasons was Red Rum in 1973-74.

Paul Nicholls won the Grand National for the first time when Neptune Collonges beat Sunnyhillboy in a dramatic photo-finish in 2012. He saddles Silviniaco Conti this year, twice a winner of the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. The chestnut was pulled up when attempting a third victory in December but bounced back to win impressively at Ascot. Nicholls decided to by-pass the Cheltenham Gold Cup in favour of a tilt at the Grand National this year.

The Last Samuri enjoys perfect Aintree preparation

Kim Bailey has rarely hit the headlines since winning the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup back in 1995. Harry Topper won three Grade 2 races for the stable in recent seasons while Darna won at the 2015 Cheltenham festival. He has a leading Grand National contender in The Last Samuri, an eight-year-old gelding by Flemensfirth.

The Last Samuri

He has improved with every run this season and was particularly impressive when beating The Druids Nephew by ten lengths in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster. He is a safe jumper who likes good ground so he has to be on the short-list with only 10st 8lbs to carry at Aintree.

The Cheltenham Festival can sometimes provide some late clues to the outcome of the Grand National. Don Poli and Carlingford Lough, third and fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, seem unlikely participants with connections of both horses expressing reservations. Perhaps the most eye-catching National trial of the Cheltenham festival was recorded by Holywell.

Jonjo O’Neill’s nine-year-old always comes to his peak in the spring and he travelled strongly for a long way at Cheltenham. He was eventually beaten by Un Temps Pour Tout but has dropped 10lbs in the ratings since finishing fourth in last year’s Gold Cup.

Cause Of Causes won at Cheltenham for the second year running and may try to improve on last year’s eighth place at Aintree. He was outpaced last year on good to soft ground but would be racing off a 4lbs lower mark this time.

The Druids Nephew bids to atone for Grand National fall

Goonyella won the Midlands Grand National last year and finished runner-up in the Scottish National. Jim Dreaper has trained him for Aintree this season but he was never in contention over the National fences in the Becher Chase in December. Goonyella needs cut in the ground to be seen at his best while the same applies to Unioniste, well beaten by Many Clouds at Kelso.

The Druids Nephew may well have won last year but for falling five fences from home. Trainer Neil Mulholland was delighted with his run behind The Last Samuri at Doncaster but he will be racing off a 9lbs higher mark this time.

Saint Are will attempt to go one better this year for Tom George after his gallant run in 2015. The son of Network was also well beaten in the Becher Chase but won next time at Doncaster. He is only 3lbs higher in the ratings this year.

After the emotional success of Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham, you could not rule out Nicky Henderson finally adding the Grand National to his CV as a trainer. Second with Zongalero in 1979 and again with The Tsarevich in 1987, the race continues to elude the Lambourn trainer. His best chance looks to be Triolo D’Alene, pulled up when well fancied in 2014 but a winner at Kempton earlier this season.

The Grand National at Aintree is due off at 5.15 on Saturday 9th April and will be televised live on Channel 4.