So here is my annual attempt at unravelling this 40 horse puzzle!
With such a large field, the first port of call is to weed out around half of the field with some nice fat juicy stats gleaned from the past ten renewals. Now this method worked wonders in 2009 when my shortlist produced five of the first six (and yes that included Mon Mome!) so I’m hoping the lightening can strike again.
Here are the trends from the past ten years that I have used to narrow the field to a manageable size:
- Aged between 9 and 12
- Weight between 10-6 and 11-6
- Run in the past 53 days
- Had it's handicap mark (cleverly) protected by virtue of winning no more than one chase this season
- Has won a chase worth at least £29K
- Has won a chase of 3 miles or more (this little statistical nugget excludes Seabass at this stage!)
- Has achieved its highest RPR in a chase of 3 miles or further
This leave eight:
- Cappa Bleu
- Colbert Station
- On His Own
- Oscar Time
- Roberto Goldback
Not such a bad list!
Still too many though, so let's throw in a couple more '10 out of 10 stats prefer'......
- Must have had 3-6 runs since 01 September
- Must have run in at least 10 chases in its career
That's ruthlessly chopped the list in half to now comprise of:
- Oscar Time
- Roberto Goldback
So number crunching has given us four runners - three of whom have very good chances indeed. Oscar Time would look the unlikeliest winner of this group but you never know what can happen in this race! Here's some evaluation:
The winner in 2011 when I got an ear-bashing down the phone (I was trackside) from my daughter for failing to pick her hero Jason Maguire’s ride. He is a bit of a forgotten horse this year after vying for antepost favouritism last year to win the race back to back – it was always going to be difficult up 10lbs from the year before. This year he’s back to just 2lb above his winning 2011 mark. We know Ballabriggs has the stamina and heart for this race but he is borderline “too old”. However, he’s been very lightly raced since last year and Don McCain’s father, the legendary late Ginger, was able to bring Red Rum back to win this race not twice but three times - the last time aged 12 like this boy.
Coincidentally came second to Ballabriggs in 2011. Since then his star hasn’t just declined, it’s hurtled towards earth at a colossal speed of knots (much like his jockey did when he unseated three runs ago – thankfully with no damage to either). He had picked up a tendon injury which ruled him out of last year’s National and since then his two lasts, a fourth (aka third last) and a UR would suggest that the injury has left it's mark. We can’t be certain that he is 100% but you can be sure that, given his connections, no expense will have been spared on his recovery. So if he is a fully fit horse once again and the sight of the Aintree fences relight his fire then you never know.....
This runner certainly has the trainer/jockey combination of the moment (can you believe that the last time Nicky Henderson was champion trainer was 86-87? Neither could I but I double checked!!) When the current owner bought him, he sent him to Seven Barrows from Dessie Hughes in Ireland with the sole purpose of training for this race. He jumps like a stag and the way he won going away at Ascot in December doesn't give any grounds for concern about the trip. He goes on any ground and looks to have a very decent chance with some luck on his side.
Another of Rebecca Curtis's gazelle-like string with no worries about the trip. Teaforthree has some serious credentials including an NH chase win at Cheltenham in 2012 and a half length 2nd in the Welsh National win earlier this year. His last outing at Haydock was poor but today’s rider Nick Scholfield blamed the heavy ground. Haydock heavy can be a bog and perhaps his previous win on heavy was 'in spite of' rather than 'because of' in which case his Welsh National 2nd looks even better. Teaforthree doesn’t have the assistance of McCoy today but Nick Scholfield is a more than capable replacement – my only (minor?) niggle is that Nick doesn't have the strike rate in chases at this course that he has elsewhere.
Since most bookies are paying out on the first five places (including our favourite PaddyPower of the lucky pants), I’ve decided to throw in a wild card from those who fell at the metaphorical final fence.
On His Own and Treacle are dodgy jumpers (I still think of Giles Brandreth whenever I hear that phrase) so they’re not getting back in and I’m left pondering between Colbert Station and Cappa Bleu.
Colbert Station has never won further than 3 miles and seems to have a preference for soft and heavy going plus he’s never seen the National fences before so I shall forsake him (and McCoy's opinion, gulp!)
for the proven stamina and experience of Cappa Bleu who will also love the ground.
So the Final Five
Cappa Bleu 2nd 12/1
Roberto Goldback UP
Teaforthree 3rd 10/1
Oscar Time 4th 66/1
And all came home safe and sound
To get you in the winning mood: