Take Chance to pull off a shock
SAMUEL Langhorne Clemens, familiar to most by his pen name Mark Twain, once said that 'history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme'.
Twain's phrase is worth keeping in mind when trying to make a shortlist for today's Grand National at Aintree (4.15), and a lot of punters will look back through the list of previous National winners to see what sort of traits are required to win the world's greatest steeplechase.
Stats and trends have their place, and looking at the past can help create a profile of the type of horse it takes to win – though you must use your common sense and allow for some flexibility. One of the most important things history tells us about this race is that almost anything can happen.
Until 2009, for example, French-bred horses were unpopular as they hadn't won since 1909 – but Mon Mome changed all that at 100/1. and another French-bred, Neptune Collonges, followed up in 2012 at 33/1.
But having said that, it's hard not to be influenced by certain statistics. For instance, the last time a 13-year-old won, Brendan Behan was still in cloth nappies (1923) and that puts me right off Paul Nicholls' Tidal Bay, which tops the weights at 11st 10lb.
Experience is all well and good but I just can't be having him at 14/1, despite the fact that he ran a cracker in third in the Welsh National back in December. Just like Mon Mome, he might prove his doubters wrong – but the record books tell us that it takes a younger set of legs to successfully tackle Aintree's famous fences over a distance of nearly four and a half miles.
Swing Bill, which snuck in at the opposite end of the weights, is of a similar vintage to Tidal Bay, although the bookies don't give that one much hope at 66/1.
The horse that ticks all the boxes is Rebecca Curtis' Teaforthree, which has been trained all season with this race as the target. Third last year off 151, the 10-year-old comes here in good shape, having had an easy time of it in the Gold Cup. He's a great jumper and is 2lb lower than 2013 so it would be no surprise to see him in the thick of the action again. But he's not exactly value at 8/1 and for that reason, I'm crossing him off my list.
For those looking for a nice outsider, consider Chance du Roy at 33/1, trained by Philip Hobbs with Tom O'Brien booked to ride. Not every horse can handle the Grand National fences but the selection won the Becher Chase in December and was second in the Topham Chase in 2012.
He's yet to prove his stamina over the trip but his weight of 10st 6lb seems fair enough and, if he puts in a good round of jumping and stays out of trouble, he's entitled to be thereabouts.
Considering he won the Gold Cup in 2011, Long Run deserves a mention, and Sam Waley-Cohen proved how effective he is over these fences when steering Warne to victory in the Fox Hunters' Chase on Thursday. But Long Run seems to be in decline and his jumping often lets him down.
Of course, you need more than one running for you in this race and of the rest, Rocky Creek has strong each-way claims at 16/1. He's in good form, he's a great jumper and the vibes from Nicholls' yard are positive.
A lack of experience has put some backers off but he looks unexposed and the form from his latest race when second in the Argento Chase has worked out well.
2.05 Aintree Trifolium
2.50 Aintree Zarkandar
3.40 Lingfield American Hope
4.15 Aintree Chance du Roy (e/w)
4.15 Aintree Rocky Creek (e/w)
DO THE DOUBLE
WEST BROM have now gone 11 league games without a clean sheet and they could find life tough away to a Norwich side unbeaten in their last six home games.
Norwich still have to play Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, so Wesley Hoolahan and Co will be aware of how important it is to get some points in the bag today. Bank on Chris Hughton's Canaries to score the first goal at 10/11.
FORMERLY known as the Liverpool Hurdle, the Silver Cross Stayers' Hurdle (2.50 Aintree) looks difficult to decipher but it may well end up as a match between At Fishers Cross (5/2) and Zarkandar (11/4).
Third in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, At Fishers Cross finished two lengths ahead of Zarkandar but the latter was trying out the distance for the first time and has excuses. If given a more positive ride this afternoon, he should improve enough to reverse the placings.
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