This is my third tip (so far) for the Randox Health Grand National on April 14th. As De Mee, my first, has been withdrawn, injured; hopefully most readers took the 50/1 NRNB that one.
Milansbar, tip number two, now looks as though he will definitely get in the race with Bryony Frost riding and should go off much shorter than the advised 50/1. Looking through the field again today for more value, I see one who looks potentially overpriced by some way – Virgilio, Dan Skelton’s horse – who’s available at 100/1 NRNB (non runner, no bet).
Most potential National bets are prominent in the minds of punters; horses like Saint Are and The Last Samuri who have run well there in the past. Or classier types like Minella Rocco or Blaklion. Most punters will not have heard of Virgilio; indeed, it was only when he caught my eye with his weight of 10.7 and his good trainer that I dived a bit more deeply into his form.
Skelton appears to have held the horse in pretty high regard when Virgilio was younger (he’s 9). He won his first two races in Britain (Skelton has had him since the horse came from France), the first a Class 3 handicap by 12 lengths, and the second, a Class 2 Handicap (at Aintree) by 6 lengths (fav both times). He started the next season with his hat-trick win, again at Aintree in another Class 2 Handicap before moving up to Grade 2 in the Relkeel at Cheltenham where he started 5/1 third fav but was pulled up, the trainer citing a breathing problem (Skelton was later to say the horse would not go back to Cheltenham as it was not his track).
Virgilio then dropped back into handicap company at Aintree, carrying joint top weight of 11.12 off a handicap mark of 148 to finish 5th of 22, keeping on toward the finish. Since then, he has not run again over hurdles. Virgilio finished that 2015/16 season by making his debut over fences, easily winning a Class 4 at Warwick by 13 lengths and he began the following season with a Class 2 victory at Newton Abbott.
Returning to Grade 2 company for the first time since the Relkeel, he was 7/4 and was pulled up in the three-horse Rising Stars Novices Chase won by Frodon. The Racing Post analyst simply says that the horse ran as if amiss (it was his first run right handed in Britain). The Skeltons kept the faith with another Grade 2 run at Newbury next time where Virgilio made a couple of crucial errors, although he would not have beaten the impressive winner Clan Des Obeaux.
Next time saw him back right handed at Kempton where he finished a fortunate second in the Kauto Star the day Might Bite fell when well clear at the last. He challenged Might Bite again next time in his first Grade 1 outing, the Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree where he was well beaten in 3rd, although he had a very stiff task at levels with Might Bite and Whisper who was second. Might Bite beat him 20 lengths and Whisper beat him 18.
Virgilio finished last season with yet another run at Aintree, and another win over 3m 1f, by 7 lengths, his jumping that day suggesting he was really getting the hang of the chasing game. North to Aintree again in November last year for his seasonal debut and back down in trip to 2m 4f, he ran quite poorly and then pulled up 5 weeks’ later at Doncaster back over 3 miles. He was strong in the market that day in December; in the lengthy lay off since then, Virgilio has had wind surgery
On the face of his limited fencing experience, especially in big fields, and his form this season, I can see why 100/1 is available. But in view of his age and what still looks untapped potential, allied to the faith the Skeltons appear to have in him, and the fact that he’s been operated on for his wind, I think he’s well worth an each way bet on the NRNB basis. There’s also the fact that the flat track seems to suit him well; he’s won 3 from 6 at Aintree (NB: for those who are occasional punters, Aintree’s Grand National course is a separate one from its ‘standard’ course which is known as The Mildmay Course, the one on which Virgilio has appeared so far).
His jumping style, to my eye, looks well suited to the Grand National fences. Stamina is another question. He’s by Denham Red, the sire of Un De Sceaux, a 16f to 20f top-notcher, but also the sire of Ouzbeck, who won the Summer National over 3m 4f at Uttoxeter in 2010. As noted, Virgilio has won over 3m 1f; the only other winning progeny of his dam Liesse De Marbeuf, did not race over as far as 3 miles in Britain or Ireland.
“Recommended bet” (see here) each way Virgilio for the Randox Health Grand National at 100/1 with Bet Bet365 who offer 1/4 odds first five and money back if the horse does not run.
Update, Monday, 9th April: Virgilio is now 80/1 with Bet365, but 100/1 is still on offer with Unibet and 888Bet along with the NRNB concession.
Enjoy the Grand National and don’t bet more than you can afford to lose with a smile.