Welsh National may give first big pointers to Aintree 2015 contenders

There has been little substantive change in the ante-post market for the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on April in the first few months of the National Hunt season proper, but that could all change over the Christmas period when the Welsh Grand National and other good staying races on both sides of the Irish Sea may highlight horses who have realistic chances of success in “the world’s greatest steeplechase”

The Hennessy Gold Cup was the obvious exception to the calm before the storm with very good performances produced by both Merry King and Monbeg Dude, both of whom appear likely to be trained with a view to arriving on Merseyside in the spring with every chance of running well in the £1 million race broadcast live to more than 600 million viewers around the world.

Merry King, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by the great Tony McCoy, proved himself a good staying handicap chaser last term, finishing fifth in the Hennessy, occupying the same position in the Welsh National, then running fourth behind Al Co in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April. After beginning this campaigning with a rock solid third to What a Warrior in the Grade 3 United House Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot he produced arguably a career-best effort in finishing third behind Many Clouds and Houblon des Obeaux in the Hennessy Gold Cup on November 29, staying on stoutly in a red-hot event.

There is just a suspicion that the handicapper may very well have the measure of O’Neill’s gelding, but if he turned up at Aintree the challenge of the daunting spruce fences and the very different atmosphere of the big race may well encourage the gelded son of Old Vic to produce that little bit extra that could make all the difference. He is currently amongst a host of horses quoted at 25/1 in the ante-post market for the big race – the present favourite is last season’s Irish Grand National winner Shutthefrontdoor (20/1) - and a big effort in the Welsh National on December 27 could see those odds contract significantly.

Pretty much the same comment applies to the 2012 Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude (33/1), who finished just a place behind Merry King at Newbury and, being a thorough stayer, was unsurprisingly passing tired horses down the straight and doing all his best work at the finish. It was yet another rock solid effort form the Michael Scudamore-trained gelding who ended last term by running really well to finish seventh of the 40 runners behind Pineau de Re in the Grand National, a race in which he generally jumped well and which, had there been a little more juice in the ground, might have seen the popular chaser finish in the first four.

Monbeg Dude is marginally preferred to Merry King in the ante-post betting for the Welsh Grand National (12/1 to 14/1), a race for which Emma Lavelle’s Shotgun Paddy is the current 10/1 market leader. Beaten just a neck in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last March, Shotgun Paddy was clearly in need of the outing when taking on top staying hurdlers at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle recently and was a distant fifth of six there.

Most observers expect a very different horse to show up at Chepstow where a big run could persuade Lavelle to try for the Aintree marathon in the spring, a race that could very well suit the horse who last season ground it out to beat former Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carruthers in the three-mile-five-furlong Grade 3 Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick. A 40/1 shot to win the Grand National, the value at this stage of proceedings might just lie with an ante-post interest on Shotgun Paddy.

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