Ex-Fleet Street doyen, Tony Stafford, splits the Grand National contenders into four teams, A to D. Hint: you probably want to be on the A’Team if possible…
LONG RUN Hard to believe this former Gold Cup hero – and veteran of umpteen wins around Auteuil – is only nine. Rider has brilliant record around the track and this looks Nicky’s best hope of getting his head in front in the title race.
TRIOLO D’ALENE Hennessy hero got involved in scrimmaging during Gold Cup. Afterthought entry, and maybe this is either a year too soon or not necessarily his track. Dangerous though.
MR MOONSHINE Tailed off behind stablemate winner 12 months ago but improved form since including strong-finishing third in Becher Chase. Last year’s winning rider takes the mount.
TEAFORTHREE Third in 2013, he has been lightly-raced since with the sole aim of winning this time. Single-minded trainer tends to hit her targets.
DOUBLE SEVEN Five chase wins in summer/autumn led to 35lb rise for this green and gold clad eight-year-old. Break brought a promising comeback run last month and could be one of Ireland’s better outsiders.
MONBEG DUDE Royal connections and decent credentials for this former marathon type, who’s showing a little more pace. Nice – should have had ‘em in – prep and one for the short list.
BIG SHU Reliable in cross-country races at top level, but profile suggests he’ll finish nearer than his Festival conqueror Balthazar King. One to be easing into a place up the run-in.
VINTAGE STAR Another from the Sue Smith academy. Stays well and level of this season’s form better than previously. Place claims.
HAWKES POINT Dour stayer whose Welsh National second off 10st was far better than apparently similar task at Haydock off 20lb higher. Fair chance.
PINEAU DE RE Close to the veteran stage, but in single season with Dr Newland this ex-Irish stayer has continued to improve and looked a little unlucky not to catch Fingal Bay at Cheltenham. Might like the track.
SOLL Ran well for a long way last year and is sure to be in the leading group throughout. A big-priced runner who keeps making you want to scratch!
NIGHT IN MILAN He’s a frequent winner and still only eight. It was hard to dislike his Yorkshire Chase romp and he’s a big candidate from his feather weight.
ROCKY CREEK Consistent in high class, but rating keeps rising for non-winning. Feasible chance, but he looks a bit of a one-pacer to carry such a big burden.
LION NA BERNAI Former Irish National winner got another victory over shorter this winter but at 12 seems high enough in the weights. No problem with stamina/guts though.
PRINCE DE BEAUCHENE Versatile hurdle/chase winner since joining Mullins from Howard Johnson, and has kept top company since. Maybe a little below that level now.
BURTON PORT One-time Gold Cup fourth, had been quiet since joining Jonjo from Hendo with “win me another National” directive from Mr Blackpool. They must have thought they’d lined him up to win at Newbury but his finish was a little limited. Well weighted on old form.
MOUNTAINOUS Gallant Welsh National winner, would love it to rain, so latest weather might cause him to be outpaced in the last mile, with so few fences to negotiate.
THE RAINBOW HUNTER Unseated in this last year, but 25-1 Doncaster success suggests another race of hope for his high-profile (ish) connections.
CHANCE DU ROY Aintree fences winner ran other decent race in fourth at Ascot. Small chance but security over these fences is a major plus.
GOLAN WAY Fresh 10-year-old won plenty of races in the past. Jumped well when coming through easy prep.
ALVARADO Winner of long-distance handicap at Cheltenham this season but refused there in January.
GOONYELLA Another marathon winner – in Punchestown last year – and was not disgraced on recent prep.
MINELLA FOR VALUE Prolific winner in Ireland summer/autumn before fourth on only run so far for John Butler. Clever trainer and he’s had six months to tighten the screws.
TRANQUIL SEA Took competitive Doncaster veterans’ chase to make it 13 career wins. Likely to be up there for a long way.
C-EEN BETTER DAYS
HUNT BALL Hard to forget his exploits under former connections, but American adventure was a flop and stamina an issue especially off this weight.
QUITO DE LA ROQUE Nine-time winner was once off 169 but his efforts over the past year have been very far removed from those heights. Could have spirit rekindled, but think not.
WAYWARD PRINCE He’s an old adversary of Quito’s and similarly languishing after former eminence. If he could get back to his 50-1 second to Harry Topper in this season’s Charlie Hall that would be a different matter entirely.
OUR FATHER Wide-margin Cheltenham winner early last season, he’s been nowhere near that level since, but this stable does have a habit of Lazarean revivals.
VESPER BELL Improving Mullins chaser until progress was halted by first-fence fall here last autumn and unseated at Cheltenham. Another that needs transformation, but could happen.
THE PACKAGE Smart on his day and no disguising promise of Cheltenham third in first run since previous year’s Festival, when pulled up. Article of faith needed.
RAZ DE MAREE Fair third at Down Royal in minor event ended dreary run of three poor efforts. Whether he can progress at this intensity is doubtful.
SHAKALABOOMBOOM Joint-favourite when eighth in this two years ago after a strong campaign. Done nothing in three runs following a year off.
LAST TIME D’ALBAIN Generally operates at around two and a half miles, and as far as the three runs this campaign go, not very prominently.
SWING BILL Knows his way around here blindfold and was sixth in National last year. Now 13, it’s unlikely he’ll match that.
SAINT ARE In unstoppable form at this meeting two years ago in hurdles/chase, but nothing since.
OUT NOW Irish National runner up in 2012, looks miles below that level.
D-ON’T GO NEAR ME
TIDAL BAY Many people’s idea of the winner, but his tendency to switch off is liable to give him too much to claw back. Short enough in the betting considering the age/temperament/weight issues.
COLBERT STATION Good 2012-3 season until not seeming to like track under McCoy when bailing out here last year. Nothing since, but may attract some JP cash.
WALKON Whatever his attributes, it’s hard to imagine that a one-time top four-year-old with the speed to win at two miles, can stretch to more than double that distance. Not a great jumper, but no chance of getting home
BALTHAZAR KING Won the Cheltenham Cross Country in game fashion, but faded out after being up there for a long way in this 12 months ago. Same story probable.
ACROSS THE BAY Challenged Balthazar for the early lead in 2013. Another who’ll be gradually weakening in the last mile.
BATTLE GROUP Two great wins here (hurdle and chase) at the meeting in 2013, but the other side of his make-up has been on show since. Pull up candidate.
BUCKERS BRIDGE OK at two and a half miles. Won’t get home.
KRUZHLININ Plenty of wins on card and two three-milers at Kelso are encouraging, but nothing like what’s needed and doubt he’ll stay the trip/cope with 30 jumps.
TWIRLING MAGNET Looks like a summer horse who might pick up a big one at Galway or Market Rasen.
ROSE OF THE MORN easy Wetherby winner but hammered over these fences beforehand.
LOST GLORY Like Twirling Magnet, a summer type.
ONE IN A MILAN Plodder.
I NIGHT IN MILAN; 2 TEAFORTHREE; 3 MONBEG DUDE; 4 BIG SHU. Outsider PINEAU DE RE.