The 2016 Aintree Grand National is run this Saturday, April the ninth at a later than usual time of 5:15pm. While historically the race was run, or at least supposed to be run over four and a half miles, due to the start being pushed forward, and the track being measured correctly, the official distance is now just over four miles and two furlongs. My preview and tips for the 2016 Aintree Grand National is below.

There has been quite a few modifications to the Grand National fences over the years, so much so that it’s been claimed in some quarters that they now don’t take any more jumping than regular fences. I prefer evidence over guessing though, so I decided to check some data. Excluding races at Aintree, I took all other handicap chases, over further than three miles, with a value of over fifty thousand over the past six years. In total there were 976 runners, and 92 horses either fell or unseated. That’s 9.42%.

I then looked at the last six runnings of the Aintree Grand National. There were 239 runners, and of those, 78 either fell or unseated. That’s 32.6%, a far higher percentage than for normal park fences. Granted the National is over a longer trip than the average distance in the other sample, but that would only have a slight effect on the totals, and as such the evidence certainly doesn’t back up the claim that the National fences are now easy to jump.

Many Clouds won a stamina sapping Hennessy at Newbury, a grade two chase at Cheltenham and the Grand National at Aintree last season. In between he came a slightly disappointing sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, when the ground was much quicker than for his wins. Despite the fact the ground at Aintree was quicker again I still tipped up Many Clouds, my logic being that he probably acts fine on faster ground, but it made the Gold Cup trip an insufficient stamina test. This year he even has the ground in his favour, and having jumped super that day, he has a great chance of being the first back to back winner since Red Rum.

Many Clouds has just a five pound higher mark for this years National, and this despite the fact that in his runs since he looks at least as good as ever. His lenient rating seems to be due to the handicapper’s ego, which has resulted in him compressing the top ot the weights to try to get better horses to run in the race. He often talks about the ‘Aintree Factor’ yet allows last years winner, Many Clouds to run in the National off a mark of 165, when he is rated 166 for the Bet 365 Gold Cup. The Aintree factor when applied to lower weighted horses would see a previous winner get a higher mark, instead of lower.

The 2014 winner Pineau De Re was rated eight pound higher when he turned up for last years National, and this despite the fact that he’d run terribly in his runs over hurdles since then. Ballabriggs won in 2011 and was ten pound higher the following season, while Don’t Push It the 2010 winner, was seven pound higher when he came third the following year. Mon Mome was also seven pound higher when attempting a follow up. Yes they won slightly further on average, but Many Clouds appeared to idle a bit on the run in, before going on again close home when he felt the second closing him down.

Silviniaco Conti is the other class horse in this race. He’s won plenty of top races, but mostly around three miles, and the furthest trip he’s tried is the three miles two and a half furlongs of the Gold Cup, and he finished weakly in that twice. I heard excuses made regarding him not handling Cheltenham but I don’t agree, he travelled just as well there as anywhere else, he was just a little free over the longer trip and didn’t seem to get home, so despite what his trainer says, I’d have huge doubts about him staying this trip, and I also don’t think he’s as good as he was, the race rather falling apart for him when he won at Ascot last time.

Due to the unnecessary early weights launch for the Grand National, The Last Samuri gets to run off the same mark he won off last time at Doncaster. He is set to receive sixteen pound from Many Clouds in the National, but in the adjusted weights for the Bet 365 Gold Cup at Sandown he will receive just five pound, and as such he looks the best handicapped horse in the race. With just eight chases so far, he doesn’t have the experience of most of these, but that also means the handicapper hasn’t been able to keep up with his rate of improvement. He jumps well and while the three miles two furlongs of his last win is the furthest he’s tried over fences, he has often shaped like a horse who would appreciate further.

Holywell was rated 163 at his best, but after a few below par runs he was dropped to 153 for both this, and his recent good second in a handicap at Cheltenham. He seemed to be back close to his best that day, and is certainly one of the better handicapped horses in this. The trip is an unknown, although he would have a decent chance of getting it, and of more concern would be the fences, as he isn’t the biggest, and he might find these fences a little trickier.

Saint Are is another on a decent mark, having come second to Many Clouds off just three pound lower last season, and won off his National rating of 146 last time. He made a few mistakes in last years race, and again over these fences back in December, and he will need to improve on that aspect of his performance to go one better. The softer ground this year will suit Many Clouds, were as it might be a slight negative for Saint Are.

The Druids Nephew went into last years National with a very similar profile as The Last Samuri does this year. He was progressive and running unpenalised for a win at the Cheltenham Festival. The worry with him was stamina, as he’s a horse who has always travelled with zest over around three miles, not really looking like he wanted further. He clearly took to the fences though, and was travelling very strongly in front when he fell five out. I had backed him as well as the winner, but while he would surely have placed he has still to prove his stamina, and meets Many Clouds on four pounds worse terms this year.

Shutthefrontdoor was fifth in last years National, looking set to go much closer for a long way, before his stamina seemed to ebb away. He ran poorly last time out, and while he’s likely been trained for the race again, and his mark one pound lower is fair, if he didn’t get home on good ground, it’s very hard to see him staying on soft ground.

Goonyella is a top priced 20/1 as I write this but I just don’t see why he’s so short. Yes he has some top form in staying chases winning the Midlands National, before coming second in the Scottish National last season, but he was off the bridle a long way out at Ayr, and while his second place finish showed he has the stamina for this race, these fences seem to suit a horse who can travel better, and he has fallen at the first and finished a well beaten ninth over them in his two attempts so far, granted they were over shorter trips.

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Gallant Oscar was progressive last season, running very well at Cheltenham before winning easily at Punchestown. He earned a thirteen pound rise for that win, but had yet to be asked for full effort when he fell two out in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown over Christmas, and he looks a horse that could win a big handicap off his current mark. The questions marks are his jumping isn’t always the best, and once or twice around three mile he hasn’t appealed as a likely stayer at this trip. If he does take to the place though he could travel really well for a long way.

Of the bigger prices O’Faolains Boy is interesting. He won the RSA back in 2014, and after an injury lay off, he stayed on strongly to win at Newbury back in December. Two slightly below par runs followed, but while being beaten over fifty lengths in the Gold Cup last time doesn’t sound much better, he helped force a really strong pace, and while others fell by the wayside he lasted with the big three until approaching the third last. It was understandable that he faded after, and a mark of 156 looks fair here. The concern is he isn’t the most consistent, and has to get over a hard race. He will need to be ridden more conservatively to get this longer trip.

Morning Assembly is another very interesting contender. He was a decent novice back in 2014, before injury kept him off the track until January this year, and following two runs over trips on the short side for him, he ran very well when fourth at Cheltenham last time. He was beaten seventeen lengths in the end, but was travelling really well when he made a bad mistake at the third last. It might have cost him only a few lengths initially, but it’s impossible to measure the energy cost of such a jarring mistake, and given he had previously looked a strong stayer at that trip, I think he would have gone close, and off the same mark here, this normally decent jumper, who is still unexposed having had just eight chase starts, looks to have a very good chance.

The Romford Pele has performed very well over hurdles the last twice, but in staying on into seventh in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at Cheltenham back in November, he as he had previously, shaped like a horse who could improve for a greater stamina test. His jumping isn’t always foot perfect, but his price of 50/1 compensates for that, and of the 40/1 plus horses, he’s the one I’d like the most.

I wouldn’t put anyone off The Last Samuri at 11/1 or The Romford Pele at 50/1, but I’m going to stick to three tips, and at the price the ones I like the most are Many Clouds, Morning Assembly and O’Faolains Boy. I think punters can try to be a little clever with the Grand National, but while the fences are different it’s still just a horse race, and you need a well handicapped horse to win in such a big field. The Last Samuri is definitely well handicapped, but Many Clouds ticks more boxes for me. While no horse has actually followed up since Red Rum in 1974, I very much doubt any of them has been as leniently treated as Many Clouds, who also has the ground in his favour this time, with a better preparation too. The current 8/1 looks too big, and I think Morning Assembly and O’Faolains Boy are worth backing as well.

2016 Aintree Grand National Tips

2 PT EW Many Clouds at 8/1 with Bet 365

1 PT EW Morning Assembly at 25/1 with Bet 365

1 PT EW (6 places) O’Faolains Boy at 33/1 with BetVictor

Stakes are on a scale of 0-8.

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