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Forty-nine horses stood their ground for Saturday’s John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree following the forfeit stage on Monday. There were no surprise absentees, given that the likes of Prince de Beauchene and Tolfino Bay had already ruled out of the race last week.
Imperial Commander, who missed the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month due to a setback, is poised to head the weights for the four-and-a-half mile marathon. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge will be bidding to become the first horse since Red Rum 1974 to carry top-weight to victory in the world’s most famous race.
While Imperial Commander heads the weights, On His Own is very much at the summit of the Grand National betting. The choice of Ruby Walsh from a number of possibilities, the nine-year-old is best-priced 7/1 – and just 6/1 in places – to end top Irish trainer Willie Mullins’ Grand National famine.
Indeed, the County Carlow handler has sent plenty of fancied horses across the pond subsequent to Hedgehunter breaking his Grand National duck in 2005, but Lady Luck hasn’t been shining light in his direction.
However, On His Own appeared to be travelling ominously well when falling at Bechers on the second circuit last year and is off the same mark this time round.
Both reigning champion jockey Tony McCoy and top trainer Paul Nicholls broke their National hoodoos in recent years; AP tasted Aintree glory for the first time aboard Don’t Push It in 2010, while Nicholls belatedly opened his Grand National account 12 months ago when Neptune Collonges edged out Sunnyhillboy, who is one of McCoy’s potential mounts this weekend.
However, while Sunnyhillboy, currently available at a top-priced 16/1 with Paddy Power, is on the champ’s radar, rumour has it that McCoy will be aboard the Ted Walsh-trained Colbert Station, who is generally an 11/1 chance, on Saturday.
The progressive gelding landed a hot 28-runner handicap chase at Leopardstown on his penultimate start and followed-up over hurdles at Punchestown just before the Grand National weights were published. On the downside, Colbert Station has only had four previous outings over fences – the last 10 National winners all competed in at least 10 chases prior to landing the big race.
Paul Nicholls’ main contender according to the betting is Join Together, a standout 18/1 with Paddy Power and Sky Bet (generally 16s). Daryl Jacob has been confirmed as the eight-year-old’s pilot this weekend and the gelding has already showcased his jumping prowess over the National fences by finishing second in the Becher Chase in December.
Seabass, third in last year’s renewal of the Aintree extravaganza, is generally the 10/1 second favourite, while Cappa Bleu, who was a place adrift in fourth in the 2012 running, is widely available at 11s.
Other leading contenders that are set to take their chance are Chicago Grey (14/1 with Ladbrokes and Hills), Welsh National runner-up Teaforthree (16s with Ladbrokes) and 2011 National hero Ballabriggs, who is generally a 20/1 shot, but can be backed at 25s with Hills.