Changes to Grand National Course after review of 2011 meeting

Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) today announced the interim findings of their review into the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting.

The findings of the Grand National Review Group relate specifically to the Grand National Course and its fences, which will be subject to a balanced package of modifications with the aim of enhancing safety for competitors.

The balanced changes to the course and fences follow detailed expert analysis of all races run on the Grand National Course since 1990 (when the course was significantly remodelled).

In addition, consultation has been conducted with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare and invaluable input has been provided by leading trainers and jockeys in conjunction with the National Trainers Federation (NTF) and Professional Jockeys Association (PJA).

Work will now commence to ensure all modifications are fully bedded-in ahead of Aintree’s next race on the Grand National Course, the Becher Chase on Saturday, December 3, 2011.

Julian Thick, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, said: “The safety and welfare of horses and riders is always our number one priority at Aintree. This is the latest stage in our continuous drive to make the Grand National Course as safe as possible. The Grand National is an unparalleled challenge over four miles and four furlongs and this unique event is the most famous race in the world.

“It is not possible to completely eliminate risk in horse racing. However, I am confident the course changes we are announcing today will, over time, have a positive impact. We will continue to monitor this carefully and make further improvements and modifications to the course if required as part of our ongoing commitment to safety.”

Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the British Horseracing Authority, said: “These modifications are sensible and balanced. Aintree, our team of Course Inspectors and our Senior Veterinary Advisor have analysed DVD footage of races and fallers over the National Course since 2000. We have also received a lot of valuable feedback from our sport’s participants and welfare groups. I truly believe it all makes for a strong package of track changes that will enhance rider and equine welfare.”


The modifications to the Grand National Course announced today are: 

1. The landing side of Becher’s Brook (fence six on the first circuit and fence twenty-two on the second circuit) will be re-profiled to reduce the current drop (i.e. the difference in height between the level of the ground on takeoff and landing) by between 10cm (4 inches) and 12.5cm (5 inches) across the width of the fence. This will provide a more level landing area for horses. After the work is complete the drop will be approximately 25cm (10 inches) on the inside of the course and 15cm (6 inches) on the outside of the course. This difference in drop from the inside to the outside of the fence is being retained to encourage riders to spread out across the width of the fence and also to retain the unique characteristics of Becher’s Brook. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 metres).

2. Levelling work will also be undertaken on the landing side of the First fence (fence 17 on the second circuit) to reduce the current drop and provide a more level landing.  By doing so, this amendment aims to avoid catching out horses that may ‘over-jump’ the (first) fence in the early stage of the race. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 metres).

3. The Fourth fence will be reduced in height by 2 inches to 4 foot 10 inches (1.47 metres). It was identified during the review that fence Four and fence Six (Becher’s) were statistically more difficult to jump than other fences in all races over the National fences and this is the reason for this change.

4. The height of toe boards on all National fences will be increased to 14 inches (36cm). Toe boards are the orange board, positioned at the base of the fence and provide a clear ground line to assist horses in determining the base of the fence.


British Horseracing Authority Grand National Review continues


The BHA has launched a wider review of all operational aspects of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National in April 2011, which is ongoing. The Review aims to explore all available options to reduce manageable risk to horses and riders in the world’s most famous race. The results of the full review will be published in October.

The Review includes consideration of the pre and post-race care of all horses in light of raceday weather conditions in recent years. A range of procedural modifications will be implemented in time for the 2012 John Smith’s Grand National meeting. The details of these modifications will be finalised and announced in due course. However, the Review Group is considering:

A new post-race horse wash down and cooling area off the course for all horses. 

Flexibility in the Grand National race conditions to allow for the shortening or removal of the pre-race parade. This would shorten the time that horses are mounted before the race in the event of unseasonably warm weather.

Maguire – whip should not be banned

Jason Maguire has spoken about the whip debate, claiming his ban after the Grand National was not the catalyst for the current whip review by the BHA.

“I did not go out to hurt Ballabriggs – we’re horsemen and we love horses,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“I broke the rules and I got suspended for what I did. I accept that. It happened. But how would people have responded if I had not ridden the horse out – and got caught on the line? I would have been accused of not trying.

“There’s a lot of talk that the review has been pre-empted by my National ride. It has not. The National is just one race. We need to look at the whole sport. If you take sticks away, you will have horses refusing or pulling up before the final fence – particularly at a course like Towcester, with an uphill finish.

“Momentum is crucial to getting over an obstacle – and a jockey knows that the horse must come first. Would people be happy if there were races where no horse finished? You also need them for keeping a true course.”

Full article here

Grand National ‘cruelty complaints’ from BBC viewers more than 10 times higher than last year

The BBC press office confirmed today that, from a peak audience of 8.8 million, they received 313 complaints about the Grand National, up from just 29 complaints last year.

After the 2011 Grand National, complaints regarding animal cruelty were at their highest in 10 years, mostly directed at the coverage of the horse deaths. The breakdown:

161 about coverage of horse deaths
103 people felt the BBC should not cover GN
8 from viewers unhappy with whip usage

The BBC press office points out that the degree of  general media coverage after the Grand National might have played some part in the increase in the volume of compaints.

Here is the BBC’s response to viewer complaints about the coverage of the deaths of Ornais and Dooney’s gate

We have received some complaints from viewers who are unhappy with how we covered the death of two horses during The Grand National on 9 April 2011.

In covering The Grand National, we have to strike a balance between covering the race as well as reflecting incidents that occur on the race track.

We reacted with as much care as possible given the very sad circumstances surrounding the death of the two horses.

We used the wide helicopter camera to cover any distressing scene as this provided the most distant angle available to us. We knew families with young children could be watching the race, so we tried to cover the deaths of the horses with as much sympathy as we could to ensure we minimised the distress this may cause our viewers.

Ultimately, our aim is to bring our audience the most comprehensive coverage of The Grand National; and we acknowledge that, when such sad events happen, it is hard to satisfy everyone with the manner in which they are covered

The breakdown of complaint categories from the BBC figures differs substantially from those reported by Channel 4 and the BHA where the main issue for complainers who contacted those organisations was whip use in the Grand National.  Full article here

The BBC also commented on another article I wrote prior to the Grand National regarding the effect of their coverage on the non-racing public.  Here is that article.

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Joe McNally


The John Smith’s Plate – not quite the Grand National but it’s free

Grand National sponsors, John Smith’s, has hitched its PR horses to the Royal Wedding bandwagon after producing a souvenir plate to commemorate the big day.

But the brand has stuck to its ‘No Nonsense’ values by making the limited edition plates out of paper rather than fine china.

They were designed by TBWA\London and will be distributed to clubs and bars in the brand’s Yorkshire heartland in the run up to Will and Kate taking their vows.

Karen Crowley, senior brand manager for John Smith’s, said: “We know how much Brits love a lavish bone china commemorative plate at special times like this so we thought we’d give John Smith’s drinkers a special No Nonsense souvenir plate.

“The design celebrates Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton whose family, like John Smith’s, has strong Yorkshire roots, while giving a massive ‘thumbs up’ to the extra day off work that the nation is being given.

2012 Grand National To Be Equipped With Drinking Stations – somebody sees the funny side


The Jockey Club has announced that, in the wake of the two deaths during this year’s Grand National, improvements in horse welfare are to be made, including the provision of water stations around the four-mile Aintree course.

Ornais and Dooneys Gate died after falling at the fourth and sixth (Becher’s Brook) fences respectively, and many of the other horses seemed to be suffering from dehydration at the finish line.

Even eventual winner Ballabriggs looked a bit dry in the throat after scampering to victory by two-and-a-quarter lengths, and his jockey, Jason Maguire, said he was “parched”.

“It’s a long race, and it was a hot day,” said Maguire, “and we could have done with a glass of water on the way around.”

Organisers say that next year’s National will be a far different affair, with eight London Marathon-style water drinking stations situated around the racetrack, where jockeys and their mounts can replenish their lost fluids before galloping off again.No alcohol will be available to horse or rider.

Wonderful performance of winning team buried with Dooney’s Gate and Ornais

In the aftermath of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National, how do you avoid clichés like “everybody regrets the death of any horse” etc.?

When the rhetoric is stripped away, any defence of two horses dying in a horse race on which around £150m was bet, is bound to be feeble.  The uproar is the price we pay for having the most famous race in the world.  Had Dooney’s Gate and Ornais died at home on the gallops, there wouldn’t be a single mention outside the racing sections of the papers.

But they died in full view of  many millions watching on TV. Not only that but the survivors were forced to take avoiding action as they galloped past the lifeless bodies of two horses who’d lined up alongside them five minutes earlier. The roadside BBC coverage of the field bypassing the fourth fence offered viewers the gruesome site of an old tarpaulin covering the body of Ornais (why no screens?).

Worse, the director cut to an aerial view as the runners sheered away to go round Becher’s, therefore exposing to the world what the screens round Dooney’s Gate were supposed to cover: a dead horse and a few people standing around it doing nothing because there was nothing to be done.

The BBC’s ‘ Grand National coverage has long been an issue for racing, in my opinion. I wrote an article on April 1st and the BBC responded formally in the comments section. I worked at Aintree in the mid ’90s and although the BBC appears to have fallen out of love with racing in general, their team at Aintree was always co-operative, enthusiastic, utterly professional and very helpful.  I’ve no reason to believe anything has changed in the relationship.

The reality is that there’s little more we can do to make the race safer, other than radical changes like introducing a draw which sends runners off in three ranks through a chicane to seriously reduce speed as they they approach the first.

What is in our control,to a reasonable extent, is how the race is presented to the public via the lenses of the BBC.  A structure should be agreed on coverage, and re-runs (slowmo of fallers a huge PR bullet in the foot), not just of the big race, but of the whole meeting.

In the meantime, we should feel some sympathy too for the McCains, Jason Maguire and the magnificent Ballabriggs – was there ever a more strikingly handsome Grand National winner? Their marvelous achievement in the second-fastest running of this great race has been smothered by the negative coverage.  Unfortunately, their day in the sun was a literal one, the effects of the heat producing a distressing and disorganised scramble rather than a glorious return to the famous winner’s enclosure.

Doubtless, Aintree will look too at avoiding a repeat of the winning jockey battling through crowds in an inglorious return to the weighing room. They should also set up something more elaborate for the combat of heat exhaustion in horses. Water being flung rather desperately from plastic buckets over the gallant finishers did not quite convey the image of a highly organised operation; small in the scheme of events, perhaps, but leaving racing open to such barbs as ‘If that’s the best they can do for heat-stressed horses, no wonder  some die on the course’.

Fully updated John Smith’s Grand National preview with recommended bets and stakes from Gingertipster

I’m indebted to Gingertipster for allowing me to publish his fine article on the big race.  Ginger writes on the excellent The Racing Forum.

Have added the percentage chance I believe each horse has of winning (Don’t Push It 8.5%) percentage converted to odds (11/1) and my price (8.5%) plus a “bookies mark up” (1.5%) added to make 9/1. There is also a trainer form rating (Jonjo 8/10).
Where a horse is available at a bigger price with bookmakers, it is at the bottom of each write up (Majestic Concorde I rate 3.25%, is available @ 49/1 which is 2%, a difference of 1.25% (3.25 – 2 = 1.25).

1. 1-P070 Don’t Push It (23 days) 11 11-10 (CD) Jonjo O’Neil 160 8.5% 11/1 (9/1)
Now on 7 lbs higher mark for 5 length 2010 success (153), from Black Appalachi, State Of Play 10-11 well beaten 3rd. Trainer in excellent form at the time. Don’t Push It goes in to race in better form than last year. 10th of 23 Pertemps (3m) Hurdle, outpaced before staying on. Often made mistakes and inconsistent over conventional fences, yet took well to Aintree. Fact no top weight has won since Red Rum is a coincidence. If both first 11-5 and second 11-6 had carried top weight of 11-10 last year; 20 lengths back to third suggests they’d still finish 1st and 2nd. Top weights have a good strike rate of placing. Ground was good last year, probably equally effective on soft. Trainer form (TF) 8/10 A P McCoy

2. 4-3226 Tidal Bay (22 days) 10 11-9 Howard Johnson 159 1% 100/1 (50/1)
6th in Gold Cup is fair form, but again looked irresolute. Dropping himself out before staying on passed beaten rivals. Flattered second to Imperial Commander in Betfair Chase, out the back when winning rider went for home in earnest a long way from home. Tidal Bay is temperamental and unlikely to take to Aintree. Not sure to stay the trip, but laziness will help in that respect. TF 9/10 B Hughes

3. 11-524 What A Friend (22 days) 8 11-6 Paul Nicholls 156 4.75% 20/1 (15/1)
Well-handicapped. 4th in Gold Cup under Saturday’s rider Darryl Jacob, showing more enthusiasm than usual in first time blinkers. Threw away winning chance in AON chase time before, found little and hung in behind winner. Won twice at this meeting. Doubts remain if headgear will work second time and/or if he’ll take to these unique fences. Needs holding up until the last moment. TF 8/10 D Jacob (blinkered b)

4. U-7744 Vic Venturi (23 days) 11 11-6 (C) Dessie Hughes (Irish trained) 156 1% 100/1(50/1)
12 lengths behind The Midnight Club in Bobbyjo (3 m) Chase last time. Under sustained pressure some way out and outpaced. Won 2009 Becher Chase (3m2f), but failed all three attempts at 3m5f+, twice in Irish National. Out of contention when unseated Grand National. Looks Exposed. TF 9/10 A Lynch (cheak pieces cp)

5. 2/1-31 Majestic Concorde (101 days) 8 11-5 Dermott Weld (Irish) 155 3.25% 28/1 (22/1)
Jumped well when winning Paddy Power Chase (good) at Leopardstown (Dec 29th) on his first try at 3 miles, unraced since but runs well fresh. Pace wasn’t good there and won through speed. Though judged by his flat career, 4th in Chester Cup, has plenty of stamina. Probably equally effective on soft and good going. Lightly raced and could improve again. TF 8/10 Mr R McNamara 54/1 (1.43% difference)

6. 42F14 Or Noir De Somoza (132 days) 9 11-5 David Pipe 155 0.3% 300/1 (100/1)
Ex-French. Off 8 months prior to only previous run for Pipe yard, at inadequate trip of 2m1f. 22 lengths 4th of 5 to Master Minded in 09 Victor Chandler. Better than that. Won Grade 2 Prix Georges in 09 (2m6f); 4th of 9 (trained by C Avert) to top French horse Rubi Ball in same race last time. Won listed chase penultimate start. Raced almost exclusively on a soft surface. 3m+ form figures read F97F. Sire produced stayer Poker De Sivola, but dam won hurdle at only 1m7f. TF 8/10 B Gerraghty (cp first time tongue tie t)

7. F24-41 Dooneys Gate (65 days) 10 11-4 Willie Mullins (Irish) 154 0.25% 400/1 (125/1)
Won Kilcash Chase (2 ½m) Clonmel, made most under trainer’s son last time out. Ran well, mistake 3 out over these fences in Topham Chase to be 4th off 9 lbs lower mark than Saturday (improved since). Stays 3 miles, but unlikely to get 4 ½. Effective on good and heavy ground. 8/10 Mr P W Mullins

8. -2F44 Big Fella Thanks (35 days) 9 11-1 Ferdy Murphy 151 2.5% 40/1 (28/1)
In truth never run to his best when going in to two Grand Nationals a well-handicapped horse. Stamina doubts remain. Now off 5 lbs higher mark than when 4th as favourite last term (146), after improved run in Greatwood at Newbury. Fair 4th in same race off 149 last time. Poor finisher, often cruising over final fence only to find little. Jumping not yet as good for new yard this season. 7/10 G Lee

9. 05-244 The Tother One (70 days) 10 11-0 Paul Nicholls 150 0.5% 200/1 (80/1)
Well-handicapped on 4th in Hennessey Gold Cup off a mark 6 lbs higher than on Saturday. Trip should not be a problem. However, is a poor jumper, inconsistent, temperamental and with a poor strike rate since novice hurdle days. Highly unlikely to take to this test. 8/10 Mr R Mahon

10. 11-112 Ballabriggs (35 days) 10 11-0 Donald McCain 150 5.25% 18/1 (15/1)
On short-list since winning Fulke Walwyn at Cheltenham Festival in 2010, upped 10 lbs for that. In clear lead over the last before tied up badly, just got home (3m1½f). Value more than winning distances. Again found less than expected when beaten at Kelso last time (2¾m). Has a good win to run ratio and usually jumps well. Trained by son of Ginger McCain of Red Rum fame. 6/10 J Maguire

11. 133-21 The Midnight Club (45 days) 10 10-13 Willie Mullins (Irish) 149 11.75% 15/2 (13/2)
On pure form not especially well-handicapped. However, breeding and style of running suggest he’s capable of considerably better over further. Never nearer 3rd in both Spa Hurdle (3m) and Jewson Handicap (2m5f) at Cheltenham Festival. Outpaced before staying on best of all each occasion. By Flemensfirth, sire of Imperial Commander, Time For Rupert, King John’s Castle (2nd in National). Out of 3 mile winner from family of Toby Tobias. Unlucky 2nd Thyestes Chase, then won Bobbyjo (3m). Travelled and jumped well, idled run-in and better than distances indicate. Stable mate Arbor Supreme now 10 lbs better off for just length beating. Equally effective on soft and good. 8/10 R Walsh 10.5/1 (3.05% difference)

12. 9P-F58 Niche Market (35 days) 10 10-13 Paul Nicholls 149 7% 14/1 (12/1)
Ideal Grand National type. Won 09 Irish National (3m5f) under H Skelton. Trained by Bob Buckler prior to this season. Dropped 7 lbs since placed for second time in Hennessey Gold Cup. 5th off 156, 3rd off 148 in 09. Despite reappearance fall usually jumps well, best on good or good-soft ground. Disappointed in Grand National when then trainer out of form and hold up tactics used; usually races prominently. Had wind operation prior to last run and trainer has excellent record with such horses. 8th in Greatwood Chase last time came over wholly inadequate trip of 2 ½ miles. 8/10 H Skelton 25/1 (3.16%)

13. 21-071 Silver By Nature (49 days) 9 10-12 Lucinda Russell 148 9.5% 10/1 (8/1)
Well-handicapped. Easy 15 length winner of Haydock National Trial (3½ miles, soft), off 1 lb higher mark (149). Runner-up Ballyfitz franked form with 2nd in Midlands National. Slightly rounded action and form indicate preference for a soft surface. However, trainer’s other half Peter Scudamore believes it’s just a need for a test. Sire Silver Patriarch won St Leger (good-firm) and grand dam Dalkey Sound 2nd Scottish National (good). Every chance more to come at 4½m. Jumps well. Seeks to be first grey and Scottish winner since Nicholas Silver and Rubstic. 10/10 P Buchannan 20/1 (4.74%)

14. 57011 Backstage (34 days, point) 9 10-12 Gordon Elliott (Irish) 148 4.75% 20/1 (15/1)
Well backed for this after small Point to point win in Ireland. Trained by up and coming and 07 (Silver Birch) National winning trainer. Connections believe best on sound surface. Encouragingly, travelled well in Grand National before brought down 20th fence last year (same mark as Saturday). 3m1f winner. Dam more a speed influence and not certain to get significantly further. 7/10 P Carberry (t)

15. 1-753F Chief Dan George (25 days) 11 10-12 James Moffatt 148 0.8% 125/1 (66/1)
6 lbs higher mark than when winning 2010 William Hill (Spinal Research) Handicap Chase (3m½f good); fell in this year’s race. Not looked in same form so far this season. Inconsistent profile, but possibly best in the Spring nowadays. Only 4 lbs better off with Ballabriggs for 8 length beating at Kelso. 5th in 2009 Scottish Grand National (4m) implies he’ll stay this trip. 5/10 P Aspell (cp)

16. 56242 Calgary Bay (70 days) 8 10-10 Henrietta Knight 146 0.25% 400/1 (125/1)
One of best looking horses in training. Good 2nd to Wishfull Thinking (2m5f good-soft) off 143 last time. Jumped well but found little. Best performance to win Doncaster handicap (3m good-firm) by 7 lengths off 142. Unlikely stayer, took hold and didn’t get home 2010 Gold Cup (3m2½f). 5/10 H Frost

17. P-2536 Killyglen (35 days) 9 10-10 Stuart Crawford (Irish) 146 0.8% 125/1 (66/1)
Ex-English top novice for Howard Johnson, won Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree (3m1f good-soft). Also ran well to be 2nd to Wogan in 2010 Grimthorpe (3m2f good-firm). Well-handicapped on that form. Changed stables and yet to prove as good; bit free in same race, weakened in straight last time, 6th of 8 finishers. Possibly needs to lead / view of the front to jump fences well and maintain enthusiasm. Inconsistent. Best runs on good-firm to good-soft. 7/10 D O’Regan

18. 52-263 Oscar Time (45 days) 10 10-9 Martin Lynch (Irish) 145 5.5% 18/1 (14/1)
First race for 7 weeks, travelled well long way, 3rd to The Midnight Club in Bobbyjo. Now 4 lbs better off for 5 length beating. Fitness possibly played a part but often finds little. No need for pressure to win Irish Paddy Power (3m). Upped 17 lbs, looked Irish National (3m5f) winner on turn for home. Length down at last yet lost another 3½ on short run-in. Plenty of stamina in dam’s pedigree, however most of sire Oscar’s progeny don’t need a test. Oscar Time is certainly not crying out for a trip. Raced mainly on a soft surface. Jumps well. Jockey trying two feats, first winning amateur since Marcus Armytage on Mr Frisk and Gold Cup / National double. 8/10? Mr S Whaley-Cohen

19. 0-1131 Quinz (42 days) 7 10-8 Philip Hobbs 144 4.5% 22/1 (16/1)
Racing Post Chase winner (3m soft), looked beaten as Mount Oscar came upsides, fought back and going away again at line. Progressive and well-handicapped if form can be believed, almost every other runner error prone. 7 year old but French breds mature quicker. More experience than most novices, mistakes all three chase starts last season. Only loss this term behind Time For Rupert. Jumps far better nowadays, possibly needs to race prominently to continue to do so. Winner on good-firm and soft. Should get further than 3m but another 1½m is questionable. 7/10 R Johnson

20. 212-42 Becauseicouldntsee (101 days) 8 10-8 Noel Glynn (Irish) 144 4.25% 22/1 (16/1)
Not seen since late December. Now 2lbs better off with Majestic Concorde for a 2½ length beating when second in Irish Paddy Power (3m soft). Just one mistake of note in National Hunt Chase (4m Good) at Cheltenham as a novice last year. Every reason to believe will be better than ever returned to an extreme trip and is built for Aintree. Lively outsider. ? D Russell33/1 (1.31%)

21. 00-06P Comply Or Die (42 days) 12 10-8 (CD) David Pipe 144 1% 100/1 (50/1)
2008 Winner and runner up in 2009. Nowhere near that form, 12th of 14 finishers off a mark of 153 in 2010. Obviously trained for this, but no real promise in three starts this term. Pulled up in almost unraceable ground in Eider Chase last time. Best blinkered, on good or good-soft. Likes to race prominently / have some room. Veteran and probably on the downgrade. 6/10 T Murphy (b)

22. FF25P Quolibet (25 days) 7 10-8 Jonjo O’Neil 144 0.05% 2000/1 (800/1)
50/1 pulled up only British start in Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham last time. 5th penultimate start, trained by Francois Doumen; 6 lbs better off for just 2 lengths behind Or Noir De Somoza in (2¾m heavy). Poor strike rate, unproven over further and had three falls in a row. 8/10 M P Walsh (ftb)

23. 1FP18P Grand Slam Hero (63 days) 10 10-7 Nigel Twiston-Davies 143 0.3% 300/1 (100/1)
Fruitful summer campaign, won all four completed starts including Summer Plate. Still looked on upgrade after final success (August, 3m1½f). Now off 5 lbs higher mark. Never jumping with any fluency in two well spaced out races since. Possibly something physically wrong. 7/10 A Coleman (t)

24. 44/P3- State Of Play (364 days) 11 10-6 Evan Williams 142 2.25% 40/1 (28/1)
Placed in two Grand Nationals, not seen since but great record fresh. Dropped 3 lbs for finishing 3rd he might seem well treated. However, 4th off a mark of 150, then 3rd from 145; and now only 10 lbs better off with Don’t Push It for 25 length beating. Trainer considers him best on a sound surface although won 2006 Hennessey on softish ground. Probably only place prospects again. 6/10 P Maloney

25. 1-11P5 King Fontaine (25 days) 8 10-6 Malcom Jefferson 142 0.125% 800/1 (250/1)
Several jumping errors last two starts. Only 5th off 2 lbs better mark in Spinal Research Chase, 32 lengths behind winner Bensalem. Pulled up in another big field (3½m). Not many sired by King’s Theatre are true stayers. Upped 13 lbs since last win. Proven on heavy and good going. 9/10 D O’Regan

26. 341U In Compliance (20 days) 11 10-5 Dessie Hughes (Irish) 141 0.3% 300/1 (100/1)
By Old Vic, sire of first two home in 2010 and dam’s sire Montelimar responsible for Hedgehunter. However, weakened late over furthest he’s tackled so far, 3m1f, in 2007 Punchestown Gold Cup (best season to race). Well fancied for 2007 Gold Cup before injury. On downgrade. Unseated last time, not first mistake. First time blinkered, easy lead to win penultimate start (2m2f soft). 9/10 L Aspell (cp)

27. 75P-1P Hello Bud (84 days) 13 10-5 (C) Nigel Twiston-Davies 141 2% 50/1 (33/1)
Age statistics are against him, but unlike most teenagers was still improving at 11, so age is not as big a worry. Won 09 Scottish National (4m Good-firm) off 133. Successful again off same mark in Becher Chase (3¼m Heavy) in November. Looked weak race for the money and 8 lb rise bit harsh. 5th in Grand National, off just 1 lb lower (140) than Saturday. Pulled up in Classic Chase last time out. Races up with pace and sometimes finds less than expected off the bridle. 7/10 S Twiston-Davies (t) 54/1 (0.19%)

28. 07-11P West End Rocker (49 days) 9 10-5 Alan King 141 3.25% 28/1 (22/1)
Acted on soft to win Classic Chase at Warwick (3m5f). Upped 8 lbs for ¾ length victory over Minella Boys with 8 back to Incentivise, idled and more in hand than distances indicate. Has action which suggests will be at least as good on a sound surface. Possibly lost action and quickly pulled up on heavy last time out. Lightly raced stayer, lively outsider if all is well with him. 8/10 R Thornton 49/1 (1.25%)

29. 207710 Santa’s Son (22 days) 11 10-5 Howard Johnson 141 0.05% 2000/1 (800/1)
Appeared back to some form with this trainer, won 2½m hurdle penultimate start. Possibly amiss, 100/1 16th of 18 in Grand Annual (2m½f) last time. Often sulks if unable to lead. Won on soft and firm surface. No win in 7 attempts at 3m+ earlier in career, unraced at trip since 2007. 8/10 J Moore (t)

30. 21-046 Bluesea Cracker (45 days) 9 10-4 James Motherway (Irish) 140 4% 25/1 (20/1)
Trying to become first of her sex to win since Nickel Coin in 1951. Recently purchased by JP McManus. Off 13 weeks prior to last of 6 finishers final start. Every chance before turn and heavily eased after chance had gone in Bobbyjo (3m). Fair 4th at Cheltenham in November (3m3f½f good-soft) penultimate start. Improved form, won Irish National last season (3m5f heavy), finding much more than runner-up Oscar Time who is 5 lbs better off for 4½ lengths. Stayers on both sides of pedigree, including Grand National runner-up (to Grittar) Hard Outlook. Could improve further back up in trip. Raced almost exclusively on a soft surface. A McNamara ? 31/1 (0.875%)

31. 391059 That’s Rhythm (120 days) 11 10-4 Martin Todhunter 140 0.1% 1000/1 (300/1)
In and out of form. Disappointing 9th in December, possible physical problem. Fair 14 lengths 5th in Charlie Hall penultimate start. Bangor specialist, all 3 wins there, latest by 9 lengths off 133 3m½f good-soft. Also effective firm surface. Fallen in last two Scottish Nationals. 7/10 J Reveley

32. 2111/0 Surface To Air (27 days) 10 10-4 Chris Bealby 140 0.2% 500/1 (150/1)
Progressive form before reportedly suffered a tendon injury when winning 4 mile Summer National in June 08 (third win in succession). First run since then, last of 10 in handicap hurdle at Market Rasen. Impossible to know if he’s still got any ability. Form on good and good-soft. 3/10 T Messenger

33. 234PP Piraya (23 days) 8 10-4 David Pipe 140 0.05% 2000/1 (800/1)
Back to his recalcitrant days, pulled up in Byrne Group Handicap last time out. Good placed efforts earlier in season, 2nd to Woolcombe Folly at 2m1f and 3rd to Mount Oscar at 2½ miles. Yet to run to form at 3 miles plus in Britain, despite many tries. 13th of 14 finishers in Grand National. 8/10 J Farrelly (cp t)

34. F-8P5P Can’t Buy Time (23 days) 9 10-4 Jonjo O’Neil 140 0.125% 800/1 (250/1)
Lightly raced. Bad mistake and pulled up last time out in Fulke Walwyn. Best start this term when 6¼ lengths 5th off 142 to Tartak in 2m5f handicap at Cheltenham in January. Winner of same race off 141 in 2010. Unseated and fell in two Grand Nationals. Travelled well long way, failed to stay when favourite, 4th in 09 National Hunt Chase. Winner on soft and good. Inconsistent. 8/10 R McLernon

35. 30563 Character Building (35 days) 11 10-4 John Quinn 140 1.5% 66/1 (40/1)
Balls of steel needed by jockey; won 09 Fulke Walwyn (3m1½f good-soft) off 139, led on line. Pulls himself up in front and inconsistent. 7th (off 145) in Grand National, made up a lot of places on final circuit and now off 5 lb lower mark. 12 lbs better off with Don’t Push It for 36 lengths. Fair 14 length 3rd off 135 last time (3m2f good). Should be suited by a return to further. Could we have a real National Velvet in the year of Elizabeth Taylor’s death? 7/10 Ms Nina Carberry

36. 51P/52 Ornais (36 days) 9 10-4 Paul Nicholls 140 0.2% 500/1 (150/1)
Good novice in 07/08, difficult to know how much ability retains. Nowhere near best in 2 hunter chases on first starts for 2 years, latest at Newbury (2m6½f). Runs with a low head carriage (long neck). Stamina doubts, only 5th when had form to win 4 mile 08 National Hunt Chase. 8/10 N Scholfield (t)

37. 2U-9P2 Arbor Supreme (45 days) 9 10-3 Willie Mullins (Irish) 139 4% 25/1 (20/1)
Well-handicapped. Length 2nd to The Midnight Club in Bobbyjo Chase. Oscar Time 4 lengths, Vic Venturi 7, and Bluesea Cracker 20 lengths back. Yet is respectively 10, 6, 12 and 1 lb better off with all of them. Rider cajoled an effort out of Arbor Supreme, never going for “everything”. Seemed less than willing in the past, best handled tenderly. Did not take to Aintree last year, already beaten when unseating at the Chair. Inconsistent. Stays at least 3¾ miles, acts on good and heavy. 8/10 D Casey

38. 5U-42P Royal Rosa (91 days) 12 10-3 Howard Johnson 139 0.1% 1000/1 (300/1)
Lightly raced, poorly handicapped veteran. Pulled up as if something troubling him last time in Welsh National. Placed for second time in Becher (3¼m), 1¼ lengths 2nd. Strangely now 3 lbs worse off with winner Hello Bud, off just 125. Unseated in Grand National. 33 lengths 6th from 18 lbs out of weights in 08 Scottish National. Possibly best on soft surface. Inconsistent. 9/10 P Gallagher (cp)

39. 13-3011 Skippers Brig (35 days) 10 10-2 Nicky Richards 138. 3.75% 25/1 (20/1)
Upset one of the ante-post Grand National favourites, and now 8 lbs better off with Ballabriggs after beating him 1¾ lengths at Kelso (2¾m good-soft) last time. Obviously 4½m is a different proposition, but Skippers Brig is proven at a stiff 3 miles and bred to get further. Sire Zaffaran a stayer, dam unraced half sister to 3m1f winner Skippers Cleuch and dam’s sire Roselier a massive stamina influence. Skippers Brig is lightly raced and capable of improvement. Possibly needs it on the soft side and unbeaten on heavy. Interesting outsider if getting a run. 7/10 D Elsworth 43/1 (1.48%)

40. 1d10019 Golden Kite (27 days) 9 10-2 Adrian Maguire 138 0.25% 400/1 (125/1)
Prolific winner of 7 of his last 14 starts. Improved to win Munster “National” (only 3m, good) penultimate start, making all off 128. First start since when disappointing 9th of 14 finishers (2m7f heavy) over hurdles on March 13th, should come on for the run. Already outstayed pedigree, By Anshan out of a mare by Strong Gale. Best on goodish ground. 6/10 S Hassett

Bookmakers seem to have reduced their prices before putting them up again for tomorrow, so am including betfair prices.

Don’t Push It is top weight; but at the weights, should beat all who take him on again from last year. Would’ve made him a saver bet, had he not been backed this morning. Price now represents his chance.
The Midnight Club seems to have been laid out for this race for a considerable time, often running at trips shorter than is likely to suit. May be capable of significantly better at this extreme distance and 10.5/1 looks very reasonable.
We know Silver By Nature gets marathon trips and will be off an 11 lbs higher mark in future handicaps. What is more, trainer Lucinda Russell has had 4 winners from 8 starts in April already, ranging from 9/4 to 5/1. Going is a worry, but I’d make him favourite had it been soft. Although the Topham time suggests it is now Good. Around 20/1 looks outstanding value, well worth taking a chance on the ground,
Something which also applies to Skippers Brig. With probable watering, hopefully it won’t be too bad. Skippers Brig proved he is just as effective on good-soft last time. Bred to get the distance and on the up.
With Nicholls’ enigmatic What A Friend taking the “first string” role, we’ve seen Niche Markettake a drift. Does not seem to be any justification and attractively priced at 25/1 on betfair, provided he gets his usual prominent position. Ground will be very much in his favour.
West End Rocker has the look of a Mon Mome, seemed an improving stayer before disappointing last time where he did not act on heavy ground.
The one two of the Irish Paddy Power look interesting. Majestic Concorde is lightly raced and could improve at this trip judged by his flat form. Becauseicouldntsee, is unexposed and proven at 4 miles. Though have been put off by the long break since his run, so just a saver.

These are the bets I recommend:
21 points @ 10.5/1 The Midnight Club
24 points @ 20/1 Silver By Nature
16 points @ 25/1 Niche Market
7 points @ 49/1 West End Rocker
8 points @ 43/1 Skippers Brig
8 points @ 54/1 Majestic Concorde
3 points @ 33/1 Becauseicouldntsee
87 points

Or if you want it put another way:
24% of over all stake @ 10.5/1 The Midnight Club
28% @ 20/1 Silver By Nature
19% @ 25/1 Niche Market
8% @ 49/1 West End Rocker
9% @ 43/1 Skippers Brig
9% @ 54/1 Majestic Concorde
3% @ 33/1 Becauseicouldntsee