The Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old proved his stamina when landing last season’s Scottish National and it looks significant that Trevor Hemmings – owner of three recent Grand National winners – Many Clouds (2015), Ballabriggs (2011) and Hedgehunter (2005) – has recently purchased the gelding.
THE LAST SAMURI, second to Rule The World in this race last year, ran a nice trial when he was runner-up to Definitely Red in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last month. However, he has a lot of weight to carry and it’s rare for a National winner to have placed in the previous year’s renewal.
DEFINTELY RED has an excellent strike-rate, winning ten of his 19 starts and was impressive in slamming The Last Samuri by 14 lengths at Doncaster. He could go close with a clear round but his two previous chase runs in big fields saw him fall at last season’s Cheltenham festival and unseat his rider in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January.
VIEUX LION ROUGE scored over these fences in December, taking the Becher Chase by a short head from Highland Lodge, and landing the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February on his only subsequent outing. He was only seventh in this race last year but was a seven-year-old at the time and horses of that age group haven’t provided the National winner since Bogskar scored in 1940. Tom Scudamore has struck up a great rapport with the David Pipe-trained chestnut, winning 11 times from 15 rides (he has yet to win in six starts for other jockeys).
MORE OF THAT was a high-class hurdler, winning five of his six starts including the 2014 World Hurdle, but his chase career has been littered with jumping errors. He ran respectably in the Gold Cup to finish within ten lengths of the winner but he may struggle to jump the huge Aintree fences.
ONE FOR ARTHUR, hampered in the early stages, did well to come from off the pace to land the Classic Chase at Warwick in January. He’s likely to be ridden more prominently this time and has experience of these fences, having finished only three lengths behind Vieux Lion Rouge when fifth in the Becher Chase.
BLAKLION possesses a touch of class, having landed the Grade 1 RSA Chase at last year’s Cheltenham festival, and found only Vieux Lion Rouge too good in the Grand National Trial at Haydock. However, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained eight-year-old has yet to win in a field of more than nine runners and the suspicion remains that smaller fields suit.
PLEASANT COMPANY, winner of a Grade 3 chase at Fairyhouse on his latest outing, missed the Cheltenham festival to wait for this. He has improved for the fitting of a hood, winning two of his three starts and placing in the other, and wears the headgear again.
HIGHLAND LODGE won the 2015 Becher Chase over these fences on his debut for Jimmy Moffatt and went desperately close to landing the same race again this season, going down by a short head to Vieux lion Rouge. His five wins under Rules have all come in November or December and there has to be a doubt as to whether he can produce his best form on spring ground.
SAPHIR DE RHEU out-ran his 33-1 Starting Price when fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and won a Grace 1 novices’ chase at this meeting two years ago. However, his jumping still gives occasional cause for concern and he has failed to complete in three of his 14 chase outings.
THE YOUNG MASTER was well beaten when falling in the Becher Chase here in December but that came on his seasonal reappearance and the run was probably needed. He showed more when he came sixth of 23 in the Ultima Chase at the Cheltenham festival and he peaked at around this time last year when landing a valuable 3m5f chase at Sandown.
Trainer Gordon Elliott had a Cheltenham festival to remember and his UCELLO CONTI has to enter calculations. The nine-year-old was sixth last year, and he might have come close, were it not for a bad blunder at the 19th fence. He did, however, run a pleasing trial when he came fourth of 18 at Naas last month.
ROGUE ANGEL hasn’t won since landing last season’s Irish Grand National but the Fairyhouse marathon has been a good guide to this race in recent years and the Mouse Morris-trained nine-year-old is also worthy of respect.
The last five Grand National winners were priced between 25-1 and 66-1 and it would be no great surprise to see the David Pipe-trained BALLYNAGOUR run well at decent odds. He has pulled up in his last three starts but those took place during the winter months and the 11-year-old has always been at his best in the spring. He was still travelling well when unseating his rider in this race 12 months ago and has shown some high-class form at this meeting previously, most notably when going down by a head in Grade 1 company two years ago.
Best outsider: Ballynagour
Others to consider: Ucello Conti, One For Arthur, Pleasant Company, The Young Master, Rogue Angel