The big race is almost upon us, with just 24 hours left to wait for the 2018 Aintree Grand National.
No jumps race in the world commands as much as attention as this marathon four-miles and two-furlongs slog around the Merseyside track.
We now know the final field of 40 that will take their places in this year’s Grand National, barring any late withdrawals.
The market leaders have all stood their ground and, on betting at least, it appears as competitive as ever.
Perhaps more so than in any other race, following some established Grand National trends is one way to try and make your selection for the main event at Aintree.
With 40 runners, it is no easy task trying to sift through them. By following the past-race trends, we can at least hope to remove a portion of the field and narrow down the option.
Age is key. It is close to 100 years since any horse older than 12 won this race, while only once in 22 years has a 12-year-old prevailed. Experience is key but only in the right amount. At the other end of the spectrum, 1940 is the last time a horse younger than eight-years-old won the race.
On those stats we can take out Welsh National winner Raz De Maree, aged 13 and having failed in this race before, but, more importantly seven-year-old mare Baie Des Iles, one of the big gambles of the week and now 16/1 to win, will have to buck the trends to win.
Baie Des Iles will also be attempting to make Katie Walsh, who has finished third before, the first female winner of the great race.
As stated, experience does count, with all of the last 23 winners had run in at least 10 chases prior to competing in the Grand National. Given the nature of this race, it is also important to have experience running amongst horses, with each of the last 10 winners having at least placed in a field with 15 or more runners previously.
Stamina is a must, with all of the Grand National winners in the 48 years having previously won a race over three-miles or further previously in their careers.
Being active also helps, as last year’s winner One For Arthur was the first in more than 10 years to win at Aintree having not run in the previous two months.
One trend that has perhaps ceased to carry such major emphasis is weight. From 1984-2008 only two horses in 24 editions managed the feat of carrying more than 11st to victory. Since the compression of the weights this has been much less prevalent, with six of the last 13 winners have carried 11st or more.
So now that we’ve got some criteria, what about picking some fancies?
At the head of the market for most of the season has been Blaklion for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has twice before landed this famous race.
Blaklion was touted for the race last year and appeared to be coming with strong claims when he moved into the lead with four to jump. From there his stamina appeared to be found wanting. This season he has performed admirably well, winning the Becher Chase over the Aintree fences to demonstrate his liking for this place.
At odds of 10/1, Blaklion has a solid claim to finishing in the money again, but it might be that a couple again have more in the tank in the dour closing stages.
Willie Mullins won this race with Hedgehunter in 2005 and the Irish champion trainer has another of the market principles in the form of Total Recall.
He justified strong support when winning the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury earlier this season, one of the most competitive handicaps of the year.
His jumping let him down in the Gold Cup last month but with a lesser pace assured here, that isn’t too much of a worry now (given that he jumped superbly well at Newbury). He’s an 11/1 chance to score for the Closutton supremo.
Gordon Elliott is bidding to displace Mullins as champion trainer in Ireland this season and he was last month crowned leading handler at the Cheltenham Festival. That feat was aided by Tiger Roll winning the Cross Country race.
Tiger Roll is nothing if not a teak tough little performer and Elliott, who landed this race with Silver Birch in 2007 at his first attempt, feels he’ll relish Aintree’s National fences when he seems them.
Stablemate Cause Of Causes won the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham last season before he finished second in the National and at odds of 11/1 a big run from the redoubtable Tiger Roll is expected.
There will be plenty of chances for leading owner JP McManus and none more so than Anibale Fly, third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month. The Tony Martin-trained runner has already won a big handicap at Leopardstown this season. He will have to prove his liking for these particular fences but a record of one fall in 19 starts in chases ensures he gets the nod as a sound jumper.
It was a big Cheltenham for lady riders last month and one of the stars of the season in Britain has been Bryony Frost.
She looks to have found herself an excellent ally for the big race in the form of Milansbar at 25/1. Trainer Neil King has been championing his claims for this exact test for some time and Frost has proved herself well capable of performing on grand stages this season.
In choosing a couple for my money on Saturday, I’ve landed on 16/1 chance Seeyouatmidnight, proven in this sphere with a third in the 2016 Scottish National and with some other strong form on his CV. Brian Hughes’ mount is having his second start after wind surgery and should run a big race.
Shantou Flyer at 28/1 also fits the bill nicely. He was running a really impressive race in this contest a year ago until being badly hampered late on and he was duly pulled up. He’s been ultra-consistent in four runs this year, including last month at Cheltenham and could easily make the frame at a big price.
Good luck with your Grand National punting!