It's Grand National day, and for obvious reasons we concentrate on that most famous and popular race in the world today with three against the field, RATHVINDEN, BALLYOPTIC and VINTAGE CLOUDS.
Rathvinden is certainly the buzz horse in Ireland, and it is no surprise at all that Ruby Walsh has picked him from some tasty Willie Mullins options. The Bobbyjo Race at Fairyhouse - named after the local hero who won this great race for the Carberrys - is a traditional Grand National Trial and the manner in which Rathvinden polished off some serious rivals really stood out.
It certainly didn't surprised Mullins who said "He'd been really firing at home and I was very happy with him." He won as he pleased, it was a very sharp performance from a horse who was having his first run since the Punchestown Festival last April. Runner up Alpha Des Obeaux is no mug, having finished second in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on his previous outing. Well strung out in third and fourth were Valseur Lido and Outlander who both repose today.
Eleven year olds have a very good record in the National in recent years and what makes Rathvinden particularly interesting is that he has relatively little mileage on the clock for a horse of that vintage. He travels to Liverpool fresh, fit and very strongly fancied.
Last season he did us a big favour when he won a Titanic struggle with Ms Parfois in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and he proved in that race - better known of course as the "four miler" - that stamina is not an issue. He is also ground versatile and certainly has ticks in all the right boxes today. The bookies offices in Ireland will certainly want this one beaten.
While the form of Ballyoptic this season is nothing to write home about, he has had his moments, running particularly well in the Becher Chase, a traditional early season National taster over the famous Aintree fences. He was closing on the leading group when taking a tumble at the eleventh fence.
And in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on ground much stickier than he likes he finished sixth to Elegant Escape. The less said about his last effort - in the Grand National Trial at Haydock - the better, but there are few people better than Nigel Twiston-Davies for getting them cherry ripe and spot on for the day that matters most.
A return to last season's form would do nicely. He won a tough Grade 2 at Wetherby, was fourth to Presenting Percy in the RSA at Cheltenham and ran an absolute blinder in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr when beaten a nose by Joe Farrell who has been a real "plunge" horse for today's big race all week. Clearly if Ballyoptic should regain any of that sparkle he could go mighty close under regular pilot Tom Bellamy.
Third in that Scottish National was Vintage Clouds, our other big race selection. Trained by Sue Smith who certainly knows whats required, this Trevor Hemmings' owned nine year old is in his prime, likes soft ground and off just 10 - 4 is certainly very much in the mix today.
He started this season by scooting home in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Haydock, and ran a cracker at the Cheltenham Festival when a close second to Beware The Bear in the Ultima Chase on the opening day.
In between was his sole disappointing effort, when pulled up in the Welsh Grand National after a serious blunder at the 16th fence which effectively ended his chances. But he certainly bounced back in style at Cheltenham in the Ultima where, seemingly beaten when passed, he rallied again strongly. Danny Cook's mount lacks nothing in gameness and should give a good account.
So there's our three against the field. Luck in running is required in this contest more than any other - or to at least avoid bad luck! - but granted that, there is every chance that all three will figure at the business end. Either way make sure to enjoy the greatest sporting spectacle of all, for at around half five today the next one will seem like a million miles away!
1/2 Point Each Way Rathvinden (8/1 generally, look for bookies paying 6 places)
1/2 Point Each Way Vintage Clouds (14/1 Unibet paying 7 places)
1/2 Point Each Way Ballyoptic (40/1 generally, look for bookies paying 6 places)
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