Leading lights tuned up for Aintree

Recent changes to the Grand National fences mean that the great race is perhaps not as daunting as once was the case.

Safety fears have led to slight alterations and so the once-feared Aintree obstacles have now got some degree of forgiveness in them.

A by-product of those changes has led to a perceived better class of horse turning up for the race, with the result that those fancied in the race are now more reliable than in days gone by.

Since Don’t Push It won the race as joint-favourite under AP McCoy in 2010, the market leader or a joint-favourite have posted finishing positions of sixth, third, third and fifth over the ensuing five years.

It would be folly to suggest the marathon race is becoming predictable in nature but as we countdown in earnest to www.grand-national2016.co.uk and cast our eye over the leading contenders and their odds it is certainly with noting the expected main protagonists.

Last year’s winner, Many Clouds, returns and is looking to bridge a gap back to Red Rum in becoming a back-to-back Grand National winner while champion trainer Paul Nicholls brings the multiple Grade One-winning chaser Silviniaco Conti to this race for the first time.

Looking through the runners for the Aintree Grand National on April 9, these two along with The Druids Nephew and The Last Samurai are among those close to the top of the market worthy of a second glance.

Not since Red Rum won the second of three Grand Nationals in 1974 has any horse managed to come to Aintree and retain this marathon contest.

Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds looks to have as a good a chance as any before him after his fine preparations for Aintree concluded in style.

His season began, unsurprisingly, with a below par effort in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase in October.

Next up, he gave Don Poli a real scare back at Aintree, with that rival going on to Grade One success in Ireland and a third-place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Most recently, Many Clouds was too good for his rivals at Kelso at a trip that was much shorter than ideal.

Back over the National fences, he will be a force to be reckoned.

Aintree 2013

Racing in the National for the first time will be Silviniaco Conti. The ten-year-old has three wins from four spins around Aintree in his career.

A sublime jumper, Silviniaco Conti already has seven top-level chase wins on his CV. A recent wind operation appears to have worked the oracle after some early season travails and he showed at Ascot in February that he retains bags of ability.

If he gets into his rhythm, few will travel better around Aintree and Nicholls has long let it be known that he felt the stamina test of this would be one that Silviniaco Conti would relish.

The Druids Nephew was a major fancy for last year’s Grand National and his trainer, Neil Mulholland, can be forgiven for still wondering, what if?

Aidan Coleman’s mount was leading and travelling strongly when he fell three fences from home on that occasion.

He’s had just three starts this season and looks like a horse that has been trained with Aintree in mind since last year.

His most recent start at Doncaster saw him finish a pleasing second in the Grimthorpe Chase and, given how big a race he was running last year, he looks primed for another major tilt.

The horse that beat him on Town Moor was The Last Samurai for trainer Kim Bailey.

A model of consistency, The Last Samurai has been out of the money just once in eight chase starts when he unseated Jason Maguire up at Kelso in February 2015.

Previously trained by Donald McCain Jnr, The Last Samurai would be a major talking horse for the Grand National coming from that dynasty.

Bailey already has one Grand National win on his CV and The Last Samurai should not be underestimated at Aintree among a quartet of fancied horses with outstanding claims for this year’s race.