Cheltenham maybe the high water mark of the jumps season for committed fans of the game but there can be few areas of life where the 'once a year' dilettante gets such a comprehensive bang for their buck as in racing's Grand National. No race captures the nation's imagination like the National at Aintree and its not hard to see why. The marathon trip of 4 miles and 4 furlongs is a test without parallel. A biblical storm of flashing whips, flying sod and thunderous waves of horseflesh crashing against 30 fences of daunting spruce.
In the eery calm of the hours before the off homes across the nation ring to the sounds of enthusiastic and baseless conjecture. The papers are spread out on the table, cups of tea are being sipped and the search for a needle of choice in this almighty haystack of a race has begun.
For such an unusual race the form book is of only limited value. If you wish to delve into it strong form over 3 and a half miles +, previous Aintree steeple chasing experience and an affinity with the predicted good to soft ground will probably form a nice basis for a selection. Or if you prefer pick one with nice name and a pretty face. Personally I like to back a few in the race with a combination of looks and substance (because being out the contest at the very first fence is too much to bare) and will be having a few quid win and place on all of my selections.
With most bookies offering five places for your each way money on the day itself here's 5 likely lads who I fancy to fill the places.
Big Fella Thanks (best price 8/1)
Better off with the handicapper than when finishing 6th in last year's race despite being relatively young and naive. The sublimely gifted Ruby Walsh knows how to ride a National winner and opts for him over stablemate Tricky Trickster (himself a leading fancy before a poor run in the Cheltenham gold cup) and who are we to argue with 'the softest wrists in racing' ? The 8/1 generally available is not an attractive price in such an extreme race but we must remember: value doesn't pay the rent, that's what winners are for.
Black Appalachi (best price 14/1)
My ante-post pick for last year's race, I still choke on my Guiness when remembering the way he fell, jumping at shadows when leading so impressively. Trainer Dessie Hughes will have him cherry-ripe for the race after a low key preparation and last year's pilot Denis O'Regan is keeping the faith. If jockey and horse keep their concentration as well he'll go very close.
Cerium (best price 66/1)
Finished ahead of Big Fella Thanks last year and gets an even lighter weight this year (so light in fact that he needs a couple of competitors to drop out before he's guaranteed a place). He ran into 5th last year and it was later discovered that he'd sustained a crack to the skull half way round making his performance tremendously heroic whilst offering the giddy promise of better this year.
Eric's Charm (best price 50/1)
What's to like about a veteran performer taking in his first National at the tender age of 12? A Sandown win in December over a stamina sapping 3m 5f reads nicely in the form book and looks even sweeter when you see Nigel Twiston Davies' big race fancy Irish Raptor well beaten in fifth. The boy Eric will jump nicely and stay the distance, not too bad for a 50/1 shot hmm?
Mon Mome (best price 11/1)
Like many others I didn't know Mon Mome from your Mome when he gave Liam Treadwell an armchair ride to victory in last year's running but Venetia Williams' horse has subsequently proved his class in no uncertain terms when finishing third in this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. He's got 7lbs more weight on his back this year but has clearly improved beyond the seven lengths that that supposedly equates to.
NB: Tricky Trickster (best price 16/1)
A galaxy sized Nota Benae must be Tricky Trickster. This horse will undoubtedly carry the £1 e/w bets of a fair percentage of the nation's once a year child gamblers on his back thanks to his Dick Dastardly-esque moniker but makes a reasonably shrewd value bet. He was all the rage for this race before a below par run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but the team behind him were never going to push the horse too hard as this has been his target all year. He's the race's forgotten horse but I urge you, forget him at your peril.
Good Luck x