Wayne Bailey: Smart stayer 'Samuri' set to put his Grand National rivals to the sword
Quite rightly, lots of changes have been made to the Grand National (5.15 Aintree) in recent years to make it safer - and while it's not the formidable test it once was, it's still a unique spectacle and is expected to be viewed by over 500 million people across the world.
Despite the modifications to the course and fences, some people still complain that it's cruel on the horses although I wonder how many of these so-called animal lovers keep their dog locked up in their garden, or have a fish swimming around in a bowl in their kitchen all day.
Certainly, there are risks to horse and jockey but the good far outweighs the bad and calls to have it banned are misguided.
Having had some shares in a couple of horses down through the years, I can confidently state that racehorses are, generally speaking, treated better than almost all other animals.
Even though my horses were never successful in any way, I spent more money on their health than I did on my own.
Interestingly, Grand National-winning jockey Bob Champion has said that lowering the fences in the Grand National may be counter-productive as it increases the speed at which the horses approach them.
As an armchair fan myself, I can't offer a view on that but I do love hearing from people who have been involved in the race, which so often serves up a fairytale ending.
As many readers will know, Bob Champion's 1981 victory on board Aldaniti was one such fairytale.
Champion had been diagnosed with cancer a couple of years beforehand and was expected to live for only a few months.
Aldaniti suffered a career-threatening injury at Sandown soon after and was sidelined for over a year.
Against all the odds, both horse and jockey came back to health and won the race by four lengths. Champion has since raised millions for charity, while Aldaniti died of old age in 1997.
The race has made plenty of other legends too. In the 1970s, Red Rum smashed the records by winning three times, two of those consecutively - and for my generation, Tony McCoy's first National win on Don't Push It in 2010 was a real treat to watch (even though I didn't back him).
This year, Many Clouds will attempt to emulate Red Rum by winning back-to-back Nationals and at the time of writing, bookmakers have the nine-year-old as favourite at 7/1. Quite impressive at Kelso last time, he looks just as good as last year right now so he certainly has strong claims.
As alluded to earlier, we all love a great sporting story but he's 5lbs higher in the weights and a hell of a lot shorter in the betting - so it's with some regret that I pass him over today.
Instead, a chance is taken on the Kim Bailey-trained The Last Samuri.
Bailey last won this race in 1990 with Mr Frisk and his charge this year looks well-in at the weights. He won the Grimthorpe at Doncaster in early March off this mark and although I wouldn't look too deeply into that piece of form, he's still quite a few pounds ahead of the handicapper.
He jumps really well which is obviously a big asset here and provided he gets around in one piece, I'll be disappointed if he doesn't go very close.
In a race where anything can happen, it's worth having a second horse running for you and Paul Nicholls' Silviniaco Conti is another which is well-in. He racked up a seventh Grade One in the Betfair Chase at Ascot, and he has Aintree form having won the Betfred Bowl last year - although this race is quite different and there are some question marks about his stamina.
But the fact that he gets in here off his old mark of 163 may help when the going gets tough, and he's got to be one for the shortlist.
Both horses were available to back at 11/1 yesterday evening although I'd advise punters to get their Grand National bets on in the morning, as the prices tend to tighten up an hour or two before the race.
Of the outsiders, Gilgamboa is an interesting entry from Enda Bolger at 66/1. Fifth in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, he's not a proven stayer but he comes from a yard which specialises in cross-country events.
Earlier on, it would be tempting to put Yorkhill (2.25), Douvan (3.0) and Thistlecrack (3.40) into a treble as each look like they have a straightforward penalty kick to take.
But they are all long odds-on and the risk/reward ratio isn't too favourable so I'd rather just sit out those races and enjoy watching good horses in action without having a bet.
Philip Hobbs' If In Doubt shaped well to come third in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival and is sure to have a say in the Gaskells Waste Management Handicap Hurdle (1.45 Aintree), priced around 9/2.
But at the odds, preference is for Mydor which is expected to go off at a nice each-way price around 10/1. Tony Martin's six-year-old hasn't won a race in over a year but has been knocking on the door lately and was probably left with too much to do when third in a handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse recently.
A mark of 133 does not look too harsh, and this race is a lot more open than the betting suggests.
* Last week's each-way selection, Lord Of The Rock, won at 20/1
1.45 Aintree: Mydor (e/w)
4.15 Lingfield: Sea Of Flames
4.20 Aintree: Thomas Brown (e/w)
5.15 Aintree: The Last Samuri
5.15 Aintree: Silviniaco Conti
Do the double
As a neutral, I'd love to see Leicester to lift the title and the betting (2/7) suggests it's likely. Arsenal, though, are live outsiders and currently trade at 6/1. The Gunners make the short trip to Upton Park today, and a price of evens about Arsene Wenger and his men to beat a West Ham side which have drifted to 14/1 for a top-four finish is fair.
David Elsworth's Sea Of Flames is great value around 3/1 in the Listed race at Lingfield (4.15). He's won three out of four here including a career best in a valuable contest last time out.
* Last week's double was successful at an overall price of 6/4