It is often suggested that prior Grand National experience can help a horse’s chances of actually winning the race.
But, interestingly, seven of the last 10 winners of the National had not run in the race previously, including the last five. And, of the three horses which had previously tackled the National, two of them had fallen – Hedgehunter and Silver Birch. So getting round in the Grand National is no major influence on the prospects of future Aintree success.
With that thought in mind, here are five leading contenders for this year’s National which have not yet run in the race.
CAUSE OF CAUSES
The seven-year-old finally enjoyed his first win over fences when taking the National Hunt Chase over four miles at the Cheltenham Festival. That proved his stamina after he had finished 12th behind Shutthefrontdoor in last season’s Irish Grand National. Prior to that, Cause Of Causes was beaten a length-and-three-quarters by Spring Heeled in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham, but his chance was ruined by a blunder at the last fence. He is much better off at the weights with Shutthefrontdoor on their Fairyhouse running and he has a handy weight of 10st 9lbs for the National. The concern would be whether his jumping will be good enough.
Alan King’s nine-year-old is finally ready to tackle the Aintree fences after running in the Scottish version for the past two years. In 2013, Godsmejudge won the four miles, one furlong Ayr feature before he was beaten a length-and-a-half by Al Co in last year’s race when staying on well after the last. He is only 6lbs higher than when he won the Scottish National and his season has been geared around running at Aintree. Spring seems to be his time of year and he was an encouraging fifth when staying on past other horses behind Rocky Creek in the BetBright Chase at Kempton.
When it comes to deciding on your Grand National bets, most people will look to see who the retiring Tony McCoy is going to ride and that should be Shutthefrontdoor. Already a single figure price, last year’s Irish Grand National winner has had a light campaign and was taken out of the Gold Cup after not running since his facile reappearance win at Carlisle in November. He will be a fresh horse going to Aintree, and there is unlikely to be a more popular winner, but there would be a big question mark over his jumping as he has been prone to making mistakes.
Trainer Jim Culloty won the National aboard Bindaree in 2002 and that horse was the last eight-year-old to win the race. Spring Heeled is also eight and has had his season planned around Aintree as he enjoys decent ground and runs best fresh. Spring Heeled has only run once since finishing second to Road To Riches in last summer’s Galway Plate and that was when fourth to Roi Du Mee in the Grade Two Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in February when the ground was too soft. A sound jumper, Spring Heeled stayed on well to finish fifth, with Godsmejudge third, behind Hadrian’s Approach over three miles, five furlongs at Sandown at the end of last season.
No seven-year-old has won the Grand National since Bogskar in 1940, but that statistic is not putting off trainer Paul Nicholls. Unioniste emerged as a live National candidate with an impressive win over an extended three miles at Sandown at the start of the year. He subsequently finished third to Coneygree in the Denman Chase at Newbury over three miles when he seemed to be the first horse beaten before staying on well up the straight. That run persuaded connections to skip the Gold Cup and he is by the same sire as Nicholls’ 2012 Grand National winner Neptune Collonges. He currently has 11st 6lbs, but it would be no surprise to see him rise up to top weight and it is that, rather than his age, which would be a worry.