For many the highlight of the first half of the jumps season is the Hennessy Gold Cup and the runner-up, Carole’s Destrier, is on course to contest the Randox Health Grand National. Many Clouds completed the double in 2014/15 and the winner, the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River, also looks an obvious Aintree contender for many years to come as stamina is certainly his strong suit. However, he will only be aged seven this spring (no such winner since 1940) so maybe this could come a season too early for him so the runner-up at Newbury looks to be the Hennessy’s best hope for 2017 at this stage.
The story of the season so far has unquestionably been rise and rise of Colin Tizzard who has been mopping up the big staying handicap chases with other notable successes for Viconte Du Noyer, Theatre Guide and Gentleman Jon, in addition to the exploits of Cue Card, Thistlecrack and Fox Norton amongst others, so he is unlikely to be short on potential Grand National contenders.
Many Clouds jumped as if he was on springs when he won over the Mildmay Course on his seasonal debut and his first run since undergoing a wind operation during the summer. You will have a wait a long while until you see another jumping performance as good as that and he was hardened into 16/1 favourite to win his second Grand National soon afterwards. He finished an eased-down last of the 16 finishers in last season’s race but it would appear that his breathing was holding him back and that has now been rectified. It looks like he will take the same route as last season with trips to Cheltenham and Kelso pencilled in.
Vieux Lion Rouge was cut from as big as 66/1 into 25/1 for the big race after he won the Betfred Becher Chase getting up in the dying strides to deny the previous season’s winner Highland Lodge in the closing stages with last season’s Grand National runner-up, The Last Samuri, running a belter to be beaten only one length off top weight and last season’s sixth, Ucello Conti, hot on their heels in fourth.
All four sets of connections have every right to head back to Aintree on April 6th with very high hopes but especially those of the winner as he was only a novice and just a seven-year-old when he completed the course in seventh place in last season’s Grand National and he clearly learned an awful lot from that initial experience. It wouldn’t be a great surprise either to see the Betfred Grand Sefton Chase winner, As De Mee, take his chance as he ran out an authoritative winner and would receive plenty of media attention being part owned by Dame Judi Dench.
The most notable guide to so far be run in Ireland was the Ladbrokes Troytown Handicap Chase which was won by the top weight, Empire Of Dirt, in the ownership of Gigginstown House Stud whose silks were carried to Grand National success last season by Rule The World. Gordon Elliott stated straight after this classy performance that Aintree would be his aim and the same owner/trainer combination could also be represented by the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup third and very strong stayer, Don Poli, amongst others.
J P McManus looks like he will be represented again, possibly headed by last season’s fourth, Gilgamboa, who made a nice return over an inadequate two miles before he was brought down when staying over two miles against Douvan. His dual Irish Gold Cup winner Carlingford Lough also looks an ideal type and he is likely to be aimed at the race rather than the Cheltenham Gold Cup this spring and is expected to return in the New Year following a little setback.
Cause Of Causes was balloted out last season when a major fancy for many after he romped home at the Cheltenham Festival but he is 10lb higher now so he should get a run this time and is another big hope for McManus as could be last season’s National Hunt Chase winner, Minella Rocco, who had Native River and the Coral Scottish Grand National winner, Vicente, behind that day so that form is working out very well.