Heavy rain on Friday on ground that had been watered overnight resulted in the official going on the Grand National course changing to soft – from good-to-soft – and while a better day is in prospect on Saturday, the big race still promises to be more of a test than seemed likely when the field was finalised on Thursday.
This is, of course, the winter game, and soft ground will not come as a shock to the majority of the 40 runners. But it does raise an additional question mark about those whose ability to produce their best form – or even improve on it - at Saturday’s marathon trip was already in doubt.
That includes horses like Ain’t That A Shame, who moved to the head of the betting on Friday at around 8-1 and could well set off as the clear favourite, as punters place their faith in his rider, Rachael Blackmore. His only previous chase start at anything close to Saturday’s trip was at three-and-a-quarter miles, and he walked over the line after tiring badly in the straight.
That does not offer much encouragement to get involved at a single-figure price, and softening ground also prompts a reminder that Red Rum was the last horse to win with 11st 11lb or more on his back, almost half a century ago. Noble Yeats, Galvin and Any Second Now all have an even tougher task on their hands now.
That still leaves plenty to consider, and the chance that a rank outsider will confound the form book has also increased with every millimetre of rain, but at the overnight odds, Vanillier (5.15) has a great deal to recommend him at around 20-1.
He is a horse with proven Grade One-winning quality, albeit over the smaller obstacles, and was the best horse at the weights in the Bobbyjo Chase last time, when he gave Kemboy, a top-class chaser, 10lb and went down by just half a length. He has an ideal racing weight of 10st 6lb and could have too much class for rivals like Le Milos and Our Power, who could emerge as the pick of the home-trained contingent.
Grand National verdict:
2. Le Milos
3. Our Power
4. Delta Work
Best outsider: Sam Brown
Aintree 2.25 The step up to three miles should hold little fear for West Balboa, a lightly-raced daughter of the outstanding stayer Yeats. Dan Skelton’s mare improved to win the Lanzarote Hurdle on heavy ground at Kempton in January and has scope for further progress on only her fifth start.
Aintree 3.00 Dark Raven was not beaten far in a top-class running of the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham last month and looks sure to appreciate an extra half-mile here.
Aintree 3.35 Champ is a fresh horse after missing Cheltenham and won after a 230-day layoff in November so he could be the value at around 7-1 to beat several rivals that had hard races at the Festival.
Aintree 4.15 Almost as competitive as the National itself, with Shakem Up’Arry given a chance to back up an excellent run in the Plate at Cheltenham.