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17 Feb 2017

Clouds absence offers Many alternatives for National success

Following his win over the previously unbeaten and current Cheltenham Gold Cup ante-post favourite, Thistlecrack, Many Clouds sadly collapsed and passed away shortly after the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival trials day, in arguably his finest performance of a hugely successful career. 

‘Clouds’ truly was one of the most iconic National Hunt racehorses in recent memory following his Grand National win back in 2015. Running in the recognisable colours of owner Trevor Hemmings and trained by Oliver Sherwood, Many Clouds was the 2017 National ante-post market leader before his untimely passing – and would surely have been a distinctly short price to recapture the most prestigious award in the sport once again in April.

It is a terrible shame we will not see his bold, front-running style, jumping with aplomb once again in the Aintree showpiece, however, it opens the door for a new hero to emerge.
After the National weights were recently published, there has been several notable market moves in the ante-post books, and here we will look closely at some of the contenders in greater detail.

Handy weight

Irish trainer, Gordon Elliott is mob-handed with eleven potential runners from the 40 guaranteed starters for the Grand National, so whichever horse/s he decides to saddle up for the race, it can be deemed as a tip in itself. However, it is his eleventh runner in weight order – Ucello Conti that really takes the eye. Given a handy weight of 10-7, the Simon Munir and Isaac Suede owned nine-year old already has plenty of Aintree experience. Ucello Conti finished fourth in the Becher Chase back in December, and also put in a fine effort to complete last year’s National in sixth place. Previously trading as a 33/1 chance before the weights were revealed, Ucello Conti is now a best priced 25/1 shot.
Lenient mark?

A potential blot on the handicap could lie with the Rebecca Curtis trained O’Faolains Boy – last seen finishing seventh in the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup. The British Horseracing Authority’s senior handicapper, Phil Smith may have handed the 10-year old former RSA Chase winner a lenient mark of 10-6 – that is effectively eight pounds below his last performance on the track. Despite being 44th in the weights, it is highly unlikely to hinder hopes of a National bid, as several horses above are likely to pull out. Although never tackling the Aintree National fences, O’Faolains Boy is yet to fall or unseat under rules which bodes well for a spin over the most testing obstacles. The 66/1 previously available on Curtis’ charge has now evaporated, however the 40/1 currently available could still look like good value when the race comes around.

In the reckoning

Only touted just this season as a potential Gold Cup winner by his trainer, Jonjo O’Neill, More of That is now likely to be aimed towards the Liverpool meeting in April. A former World Hurdle winner who managed the feat of downing the colours of Annie Power in the process, More of That perhaps hasn’t the same ability of years gone by – but the JP McManus owned star still has the class required to be in the National reckoning. Running off a mark of 157, More of That will carry a maximum of 11-1 provided current top weight Outlander stands his ground – O’Neill certainly knows how to get one ready for the National after saddling up Don’t Push It to glory back in 2010 for his esteemed connections and currently trades around the 25/1 mark.

Youthful experience

It is highly plausible that the Becher Chase form could well offer plenty of clues to find this season’s National winner - Vieux Lion Rouge has been slightly forgotten since the weights have been announced. Trained by David Pipe, Vieux Lion Rouge nabbed long-time leader, Highland Lodge in the final furlong to claim victory in his latest appearance over the famous Aintree obstacles. The visual efforts from that day suggested that Vieux Lion Rouge might still have some improvement left in the tank. Only an eight-year old, he has already gained plenty of experience over the National fences and looks very worthy of consideration at current odds of around 25/1.