Leading Aintree contenders gearing up for big race

Copyright by Paolo Camera

With less than four weeks to go to the 2015 Grand National, a better picture is emerging of the horses in top form as the countdown well and truly begins.

The recent Cheltenham Festival gave us a few more clues about horses in good shape ahead of the marathon. And there were few better than the impressive win of the Neil Mulholland-trained The Druids Nephew in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on the opening day of the showcase four-day fixture.

Given a great ride by Barry Geraghty, he bounded away to beat Grand Jesture by nearly four lengths and looks the sort likely to give a very good account of himself in the Aintree Grand National. He has been cut from 33/1 to a top price of 16/1 in light of his excellent Cheltenham effort.

Last year’s Aintree hero Pineau de Re (steady at 25/1) was also in action at Cheltenham, but as with 12 months earlier the preferred route was to stick to the smaller obstacles. He ran a satisfactory race in finishing 11th of the 23 runners behind the impressive Call the Cops in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Final.

A year earlier he was beaten in a three-way photo for the coveted prize. But after a series of below-par runs he definitely showed more spark at Cheltenham and his trainer, Dr Richard Newland, was very satisfied with the effort.

Pineau de Re has runs off an 8lbs higher mark this time at Aintree than when beating the gallant Balthazar King (a solidly supported 16/1 shot for this year’s race) by five lengths in 2014. But both of the veterans will return to Merseyside with hopes high they will again feature prominently in the nearly four-and-a-half-mile affair.

One horse who did not show up at Cheltenham was the current clear ante-post favourite for the Grand National, Shutthefrontdoor. He had been expected to run in the race won by The Druids Nephew but did not take his chance there, or at Kempton the day after the Cheltenham Gold Cup where he also had an entry.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Irish Grand National winner is set to be ridden by Tony McCoy in what will be the greatest jockey’s final spin around in the Grand National. This comes after a stellar career that saw him win the race back in 2010 on Don’t Push It.

Popular support for McCoy’s mount on April 11 could see him start as one of the hottest favourites in many years. He is already down to just 8/1 with some firms (9/1 elsewhere), and the sentimental betting attached to McCoy’s final mount in the race could see a huge flood of money forcing his price down to possibly as low as 5/1 on the big day.

One horse to emerge recently as another potential Grand National contender is the David Pipe-trained Soll. He joined the Nicolashayne-based handler from Jo Hughes in October and has not looked back since, winning at Exeter and Newbury in good style. Seventh to Auroras Encore in 2013, he is now a 25/1 shot (from ‘66’s) as a result of his return to form and is a confirmed stayer.

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