The Cheltenham Festival is over for another year but now focus turns to the Grand National meeting at Aintree. Some of the best thoroughbreds in the business will compete at the three-day event but the majority of attention will be on the Grand National – arguably the toughest race in the industry. Here are five leading contenders for glory ahead of April’s big race.
CAUSE OF CAUSES
The nine-year-old romped to victory in the Cross Country Chase to secure his third Festival victory in as many years and all signs point towards a good run at Aintree. Cause of Causes has won now the Cross Country Chase as well as the Kim Muir Handicap and the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and a Grand National triumph could be on the cards.
Last year, Cause of Causes completed the famous Aintree race; coming home in eighth – a respectable effort to say the least. This time around, his preparation has been perfect and trainer Gordon Elliott looks set to give the green light for a run at Aintree.
Highland Lodge is somewhat of a course specialist and the 2015 Becher Chase winner could feature prominently if he gets decent track position early on. Trained by Cumbrian-based James Moffatt, the 11-year-old missed out on this race last year after he fell short in the weights. This year, he should make the cut fairly comfortably.
In December, he attempted to win the Becher for the second year in a row but missed out by a short head to Vieux Lion Rouge – currently a strong tip and one of the ante post favourites. Should he avoid trouble, Highland Lodge’s consistent jumping gives him a fantastic chance.
THE YOUNG MASTER
One to watch. He fell in December’s Becher Chase but his fifth in the Ultima Handicap at the Festival should be respected and Neil Mulholland will be quietly confident of Aintree success next month. He has been well backed in recent weeks and that effort at Cheltenham may be enough to tempt punters to have a nibble as Aintree draws closer.
Unfortunately, he is still young and he has a lot to learn. In the last 14 years, only one eight-year-old (Many Clouds) has won this race and history is certainly against him. However, he is talented enough to go far and he could surprise us all.
THE LAST SAMURI
Jockey David Bass was given a dream ride on The Last Samuri in this race twelve months ago but Rule The World found more in the final couple of furlongs to snatch victory under David Mullins. Last year’s effort means that The Last Samuri must be respected and, barring a fall, he will be there or thereabouts at the business end of the race.
He was disappointing in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster earlier this month but The Last Samuri will enjoy a return to Aintree. He finished third in the Becher Chase in December but may appreciate a longer trip; don’t rule him out just yet.
VIEUX LION ROUGE
But perhaps the pick of the bunch is Vieux Lion Rouge. He’s had the beating of these rivals in recent months and David Pipe will be full of confidence after a successful Cheltenham. He is well placed to go well off his current mark and will almost certainly have Tom Scudamore on board if all is well with both horse and jockey.
Like The Young Master, he is only eight years old but experience is nothing when you boast so much talent. Vieux Lion Rouge won the Grand National trial at Haydock last month and he is probably the pick of the bunch based on recent form.