Paul Jacobs' guide to the 2014 Grand National
*Compare all the best Grand National 2014 odds here.
And so another year goes by and a shock winner in Auroras Encore in the 2013 renewal, but what did that victory tell us about the marathon and do we have to approach the World’s Greatest Race with a different set of criteria when trying to find the winner? Paul Jacobs, who identified Teaforthree six months before the contest at 33/1 as his National choice, gives you his punting views on the 2014 event.
Check out Paul's Crabbies Grand National video q+a below
Paul's Grand National Tips
There is little doubt that the shorter run to the first fence and the more pliable cores of the major obstacles have helped to make the Grand National about as safe as it possibly can be, but please no more changes otherwise it simply won’t be the Grand National!! Instead it will become just another ordinary long distance handicap chase. In racing there is always a cliché I like to abide by to help me find big priced winners and that is ‘always forgive a horse one bad run’ and that is particularly true of several entries coming into the great race.
My first edition of this Grand National tipping column came back in June 2013, hence the price advised on Teaforthree, but as we move into Grand National week the ground conditions come into play as does the actual field. I have also penned an article on all 40 horses (read Grand National contenders here) as well as this more in depth ante-post preview below.
Going back to last year’s event, which I have viewed many times over, I have always thought that Nick Schofield, fine horseman though he is, just went for glory too far out on TEAFORTHREE. Had he held onto his mount for a little bit longer I am sure he would have made a real race of it with the shock winner Auroras Encore.
This super solid jumper runs off a 149 rating this year, two pounds lower than in 2013. His 2012/13 season was geared towards the Welsh National, but a small setback meant he came in late for this year’s campaign and had to take in the Chepstow renewal without a run under his belt. A big and stuffy horse, the 10-year-old ran well until the home straight when lack of condition told and he faded down the home run to finish 27 lengths off the winner Mountainous, ninth home of the 20 runners. His susesequent second at Ascot showed he retains his normal jumping prowess, brillaint at times on the run out of Swinley Bottom which made me slightly annoyed with myself that I hadn't taken more of the 25/1 each-way when I had the chance to!
Add to the mix that the Rebecca Curtis yard were under a cloud at the time, but are now in better form and you can see the transparent claims for this Welsh raider so long as she can get at least one more run into him. He looks a very solid player at the price advised last year and must be a starting point in your Grand National portfolio if you haven’t played yet although 12/1 is as low as I would go now for any runner even though its hard to see him out of the four especially following a hugely solid run in the Gold Cup as his warm-up race.
Of those further back in the field from last year I was rather taken by the run of Saint Are (ninth), a winner over both hurdles and fences on the Mildmay track, and having his first taste of the National obstacles. Sadly, he looks too far down the entry list in 85th spot to get a run.
WALKON is certainly interesting on his Topham second, now a full 20lbs better off with the winner for three parts of a length, as he has a cracking record in big field races, although it has to be said good ground is about as quick as he would want it. His run behind Harry Topper in the Denman Chase at Newbury can be safely discarded, being his first for a long time. Now he has qualified, you need to finish fourth or better in a chase during the current season to run, Alan King can really build him up and that second to Triolo D’Alene showed he can handle the fences and remember he has only had 11 starts over the larger obstacles to date. The big question mark now is the distance.
Of course the best handicapped horse in the race is top weight Tidal Bay set to run from an official mark of 161, a full seven pounds lower than his official handicap rating. His one run over the mighty course resulted in the veteran unseating at the 10th obstacle when well behind in the 2011 renewal. The fences are a lot easier now and if he can get into a rhythm early on I suspect he could well put up a similar performance to his staying on effort in the Welsh National. Is he good enough? Well almost certainly off his current mark, but that is reflected in his price and top weights have an awful record in the race in recent years.
For obvious reasons the Hennessy winner TRIO D’ALENE remains interesting after his Topham win last year, when he was brilliant at his obstacles. The big question with this in-form and progressive seven-year-old is how much more improvement is there to come? He won the Topham off a rating of 132 and the Newbury showpiece off 147 but is a further 10lbs higher here. If Tidal Bay stays in the race then Henderson’s charge will at least have a semi-viable weight and his course experience is a huge bonus. I was slightly disappointed with his Gold Cup run, but he remains a work in progress.
Purely on handicapping terms former Gold Cup winner Long Run looks a serious contender off 160, a pound below Tidal Bay, but does he retain the enthusiasm anymore? In three runs this season he has looked a shadow of the horse that finished third in last year’s Gold Cup and second at Punchestown and I just wonder if a career of very hard races where he has never done anything in a smooth easy style is possibly catching up on the French-bred. If he were to return to anywhere near his best then the 10-year-old would be a huge player, but that is a big IF.
The highly publicised purchase of Mossey Joe by Barry Connell has been well documented and this hugely impressive winner of the Foxhunters Champion Chase has been allotted a rating of 152. Seven from 11 over fences> He may be an 11-year-old, but could also improve a fair bit, but for me his mark is severe enough and the Foxhunters looks a much more viable alternative so have a lot more time for another Endar Bolger runner Big Shu.
This nine-year-old is even more inexperienced with 15 starts under rules but was a ready winner of the Cross Country Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. That came off a mark of 136 (has 145 here) and there is more to come from him as there has to be for him to be considered a serious player. His comeback run behind Love Rory at Punchestown was very fair and betting odds of 50/1 are interesting. He basically didn't have the finishing clout to defend his cross country title and this stiffer test will suit him better.
I think Rocky Creek could travel well through a race like this, but he has hardly been thrown in at the weights and hasn’t struck me as an out and out stayer in his two races to date, but the hugely likeable VINTAGE STAR could be a player for last year’s winning trainer Sue Smith.
I think his run in the Welsh National can be safely discarded as the undulating terrain seemed not to suit, but he put that run well and truly behind him in the Peter Marsh Chase last time out. That outing came off a handicap mark of 141 and only three pounds higher here, this reformed jumper has a lovely racing weight and at betting odds of 40/1 he could prove the e/w value in the race with his early departure at Cheltenham a possible blessing in disguise.
I am also a massive fan of ALVARADO. He hated the soft ground in the Foundation Developments Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, but on his previous win at the track looked all over a Grand National sort. My one worry would be if the ground got too soft on the day, good to soft would be okay.
I was surprised that Same Difference was taken out of the race, but may be the Scottish National and Bet365 Gold Cup will be his domain so Cross Country specialist Big Shu, the well handicapped Prince du Beauchene and possibly Pertemps Hurdle third Pineau De Re are others to be interested in at 'prices'.
A final note, if the ground got really soft then I would have to respect the claims of the disappointing Vesper Bell, the aforementioned Tidal Bay and Hawkes Point.