Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday week but for all his virtues he’s not for me at general odds of 7-2.
There’s little doubt he jumps and stays well, is in-form and has a lovely racing weight (10st 5lb) and has a good team around him but that fact he’s officially 14lb well-in for Saturday week’s showpiece looks misleading. I’m not sure the form of his win at Kelso last time, where he was allowed to dictate against four rivals, is quite what it seems, as to my mind none of his opponents gave their running.
Other niggles, given his price, are that Cloth Cap has definitely improved for being equipped with cheekpieces and being able to dominate on his past two starts. The headgear offers us a reminder that he has been a little tricky to win with in the past and it goes without saying that trying to dominate 39 rivals at Aintree will be very different to anything he has previously done.
I cannot believe he can get any shorter in the betting and wouldn’t be surprised if he drifts in the market nearer the day. Perhaps he will reach a price where I will be happy to save on him.
At this stage, I’m happy to divide my each-way bets on five contenders priced between 10-1 and 100-1 who all have solid credentials plus the potential to shorten up in the market.
Top of my shortlist is Secret Reprieve, who won the Welsh Grand National in great style last time and, having had only six runs over fences, is still open to any amount of improvement. Wiliam Hill offer a standout 16-1 but I cannot see him going off at anything like that price.
The stats say he cannot win because he’s a seven-year-old novice – the last of that age group to win was in 1940 - but the nature of the race has changed in recent years (distance shortened and fences modified) and it’s surely no coincidence that the past five renewals have been won by horses who have been either 8 or 9.
To further illustrate that point, three eight-year-olds have won since 2015 – as many as in the previous 40 years put together.
Secret Reprieve jumped fluently when winning at Chepstow and showed the blend of speed/stamina required to excel at Aintree. He beat solid staying yardsticks in The Two Amigos and Yala Enki with such as Lord Du Mesnil (subsequent Haydock Grand National Trial winner), Vieux Lion Rouge (the dual Becher Chase winner) and Cloudy Glen (since runner-up in the Kim Muir) all beaten out of sight.
Evan Williams, the trainer, and the Ruckers, the owners, give their horses all the time they need to fulfil their potential and are not inclined to overface them. It is a tip in itself that they are happy to go for glory as they could easily have stayed in shallower waters.
Secret Reprieve is 10lb higher in the ratings than last time but that would not have stopped him at Chepstow and, unlike most in the field, we have no idea where his ceiling might be. He will also arrive fresh after a light campaign and the ground was good to soft for his big win, as it seems likely to be on Saturday week.
It might be he is too well-handicapped – he needs a minimum of seven more horses to come out to make the cut – but we will get our cash back if he is eliminated.
The Irish dominated the Cheltenham Festival and they will have a strong hand, with Discoroma, available at 33-1, and Any Second Now, a general 10-1, making most appeal among their squad.
Discorama has been placed at the Cheltenham Festival three times and is only 1lb higher than when third in the Ultima Chase last season. We’ve not seen him since he ran below-par at Cheltenham in November but we know he’s capable of much better and his near-miss in a stamina-sapping National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in 2019 indicated he had the qualities to shine at Aintree.
He remains relatively lightly raced over fences – only ten starts – and, while he seems to have been around for a while, is still only an eight-year-old. Paul Nolan, his trainer, has few peers when it comes to readying one for the big day.
I was a fan of Any Second Now for last year’s National but fancy ante-post slips became worthless when the race was cancelled because of the global pandemic. Much of the logic remains the same.
I’ve managed to miss the boast this year in terms of chunky prices but the general 10-1 still appeals because he ticks just about every box and showed his wellbeing when scoring over 2m at Navan last time.
Ted Walsh, his trainer, has used that tactic before with his staying chasers and I’m not worried about the nine-year-old’s stamina. He was a convincing winner of the Kik Muir over 3m 2f at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 and there’s a stack of stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree.
The other pair on my shortlist are Mister Malarky, who is chalked up at 40-1, and Minellacelebration, who is dismissed as a 100-1 chance.
Mister Malarky lacks some consistency but he’s got some solid form to his name, including when a close third at Kempton last time after a wind op. He’s hinted on occasions that he will gallop all day and the Tizzard stable, in the doldrums for much of the season, is ending the campaign in better heart.
Minellacelebration has unseated his rider in two of his past three starts but was blameless on both occasions. In the Becher Chase, in December, his jockey exited on the flat after a tack issue when up with the pace, and at Sandown in January he was hampered early on.
What makes him appealing, at huge odds, is that he’s always raised his game on the Mildmay Course at Aintree (three career wins, including when bolting up in late October) and that he he’s been off three months because he has a fine record when fresh.
He's untested over marathon trips but it's encouraraging that he’s related to Ad Hoc, a smart stayer in his prime who looked sure to play a hand in the finish of the National in 2002 until being brought down four out.
How To Bet £20 ante-post on the Randox Grand National
£3 win and £1 each-way on Secret Reprieve at 16-1 with William Hill (four places)
£2.50 each-way Discorama at 33-1 with William Hill (four places)
£1 win and £1.50 each-way on Any Second Now at a general 10-1 (bet365, Betfair, Paddy Power, Boylesports and Betfred offer five places)
£1.50 each-way on Mister Malarky at 40-1 with bet365 (five places)
£1.50 each-way on Minellacelebration at 80-1 with bet365 (five places). William Hill offer 100-1 but go four places.
Previous How To Bet £20 ante-post columns in 2021
£14 win on Clondaw Castle at 8-1 with bet365 and William Hill - WON 17-2
£3 each-way on Al Dancer at 8-1 with William Hill - LOST
£5 win and £5 each-way on Lord Du Mesnil at a general 12-1 (quarter the odds) WON
£2.50 each-way on Sojourn at 15-2 with Betfair and Paddy Power (quarter the odds) LOST
Bets void - race at Cheltenham abandoned
£17 win on Notachance at 11-2 with William Hill - WON
£3 win on Achille at 14-1 with Sky Bet and bet365 - 2nd
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