National obsession

After two days of rank punting at Aintree, a post about Grand National bets is ill-advised at best; an exercise in public humiliation at worst. A couple of quotes illustrate my point perfectly: "the extra distance just gives Menorah more fences to clout." He won the Manifesto Novice Chase easing down. "Finians Rainbow, on the evidence of the Victor Chandler Chase, won't stay 2 1/2 miles." He won the Melling Chase with proverbial head in chest.

Two distant seconds is the nearest I've got in eight bets. One of those was Burton Port in the Betfred Bowl who had Tony McCoy hard at work with a circuit to go but couldn't get close to 'shock' winner Follow The Plan at 50-1. Massive. But the horse has two-grade 1 wins, one over this trip and was placed in this last year. So how much of a shock?

Take out that race and the Cheltenham form has held up remarkably well. Eight winners in the two days at Aintree so far have come from horses placed at the festival and a further 5 have been placed again. This is not always the case. It is possible that the inusually long four week gap has helped festival horses recover and excel, despite very different track and underfoot conditions.

It's tempting to take this tiny nugget of dubious information as a punting bedrock for an assault on tomorrow's big races. But as two of Cheltenham champions are  short-price penalty kicks here - Simonsig in the Mersey Novice Hurdle and Sprinter Sacre in the Maghull Novices Chase - the plan has a few holes in it. Spawny double territory, anyone?

The pattern could be repeated in the Aintree Hurdle. Rock On Ruby has an excellent chance over arguably his optimum 2 1/2 mile trip. He's tough and didn't have the hardest of races in wrapping up the Champion Hurdle. But he faces Oscar Whisky here who is mustard at this distance after being found out by the extra 1/2 mile in the World Hurdle. He bagged the race last year and is very classy at his best. Assuming the World Hurdle didn't leave its mark, he'll be bang there again. Zarkander is another who should like the trip, commentators having noted his 'crying out for a step up'. His indifferent run in the Champion is some cause for concern, but Nicholls claims to have him right now. That said, the trainer  fancied this one in preference to Rock On at the festival too. So how much help is that? ... All clear? Because there's the ultra-consistent Thousand Stars to consider as well. At 11/2 there's even a whiff of value about the Mullins runner who didn't really stay in the World Hurdle and was a good 2nd in this last year. I don't know how to split them. Maybe this is one to simply savour. Bollocks. I'm on  ROR!

And to wring every last drop of significance out of the Cheltenham winner's pattern, we should heartily lump on Synchronised in the Grand National. Well, it wouldn't be the worst bet in the World. Two nationals already in the bag and a Gold Cup to boot. That's top drawer form. And there are no ground concerns after shaking off the notion he needs it hock-deep. But he is still a horse who goes best when fresh. The Gold Cup was a tough race and landing this off top weight (albeit a few pounds well in on official figures) is too much to ask. He'll be a short enough price at 4.15pm too.

I'll be opposing the market leaders. Whilst it is not so easy these days to discount horses lumping 11-stone-plus, I feel that Ballabrigs will be vulnerable to something lower down the handicap; I'm not convinced by Junior's jumping prowess; likewise Chicago Grey who can seem laboured and ponderous at his fences; Sunnyhillboy has some jumping question marks over him too; West End Rocker has a hike in the weights to overcome.

At big each-way prices, I like:

Becauseicouldntsee (18-1) Stamina proven, been in the frame in some marathon trips, will like the ground and jumping (on the whole) is sound.

Planet Of Sound (33-1) - on a respectable mark and has some very strong staying performances in the book. 2nd in the Hennessy in November is the recent pick and fairish effort in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton will have put him spot on.

According To Pete (33-1) - bounced back to form this season, winning back-to-back staying chases. Will love this test of stamina and the ground will not be a problem. On a career high mark, but has earned it.

At really big odds, I can't shake an interest in Quiscover Fontaine (50-1) who has been kept to hurdles this year, but has very persuasive form in the Irish National and I would dearly love to back Weird Al (50-1) who looks handy in the weights, will stay and has some class. But he's so fragile, having burst a blood vessel in the GoldCup for a second year on the bounce.

How many can I have?


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