After an unimaginable twelve months, I am certain that cancelling another planned journey would not be high on Michael O’Leary’s bucket list at this moment in time but, if we are to take the Ryanair Supremo’s words on last week’s Luck On Sunday show as gospel, then Tiger Roll won’t turn up at Aintree for a bid at an unprecedented third straight Grand National win having been allotted a handicap mark of 166 for this year’s renewal – 7lb higher than he won the race off in 2019.
Doubtless, this will rumble on, but do I want to back him at this stage? No, in a word, because although I think a 4lb drop since last year’s weights release is fair based on the limited on-course evidence we have, there has been enough genuine doubt in my mind ever since an uncharacteristically tame finish in last season’s Cross Country Chase that perhaps the force of Tiger Roll isn’t quite so strong as it was in his prime. And, make no mistake, in what could be the highest-quality renewal of the Grand National that there has ever been, he will need to be at least as good as ever.
At my last check, Tiger Roll predictably still headed the ante-post betting, but only narrowly from Cloth Cap, and though admittedly prominent in the betting, the 20-1 widely available about Jonjo O’Neill’s nine-year-old does make appeal and is likely to shorten over the coming weeks.
Jonjo O'Neill discusses Cloth Cap ahead of this year's Randox Grand National
A mark of 148 isn’t lenient as such, but that rating will almost certainly ensure that he gets a run towards the foot of the weights and he fully earnt it with a dominant performance in the Ladbrokes Trophy last year.
The fact that Cloth Cap produced a career-best performance on his most recent start is in contrast to most of those higher up the weights, who have either been given more plot-style campaigning or, in some cases, have to genuinely prove that they retain their ability.
It will require another jolt of improvement to win the Grand National, but Cloth Cap does strike me as having the right attributes for the race.
As a seven year-old in 2019, he placed in the Scottish Grand National over almost four miles, so I don’t anticipate stamina being a problem, and he’s always been a bold jumping, prominent racer which I see as a good combination for the National course.
Whereas Cloth Cap looks a safe bet at this stage, with Any Second Now there’s more guess work involved after he was pulled up in the Thyestes at Gowran in late-January, but if we rewind the clock twelve months then Ted Walsh’s inmate was very much on the path to Aintree after a hard-fought win over an inadequate two miles in a Grade Three at Naas that really underlined his class. In the trainers own words after that Naas win he’d “go to Aintree with a good chance”, but unfortunately we all know what came next.
I find it hard to believe, however, that Ted Walsh – who trained Papillon to win the National in 2000 and has also had Jack High and Seabass place in the race – hasn’t simply geared Any Second Now’s entire campaign around getting to Aintree in peak condition this time around.
My suspicion is that BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood has thought the same, choosing to ignore his Thyestes run and leave him on the same rating of 152 that he was allotted in 2020.
Available at best-priced 33-1, I can see some momentum gathering behind Any Second Now in the build-up to the race and if he does indeed bounce back to his best, then he should be a big player at Aintree.
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