Five early season contenders for the Grand National

Cloth Cap impressed when winning the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.
Cloth Cap impressed when winning the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

With the Becher Chase now behind us, Derby Award winner Nick Seddon takes a long range look at next year’s Grand National, and picks out five horses who have impressed him during the early stages of the season…

Cloth Cap (Jonjo O’Neill)

The yellow and green quartered silks of Trevor Hemmings are synonymous with the Grand National, and the joint most successful owner in the race’s history could well have another strong hand in April - as he looks to win this for a record fourth time. Indeed, Hemmings has two horses towards the top of the ante-post market at the time of writing, beginning with the eight-year-old Cloth Cap, who was a deeply impressive winner of last month’s Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. That race has a well established habit of producing a top-class staying chaser, and Cloth Cap looked a long way ahead of his mark that day, making a mockery of his official rating of 136 to win what looked a hugely competitive affair on paper by 10 lengths. It’s worth noting that Many Clouds, Hemmings’ most recent National winner, won the Ladbrokes Trophy on route to scoring on Merseyside in the 2014/15 season - and the omens look good for this lightly-raced type.

Indeed, there will be no stamina concerns for Cloth Cap, who outlined his credentials for this sphere when finishing an excellent third in the 2019 Scottish Grand National during his novice campaign. He’s raced just six times since, but regularly shapes well, and seems to need good ground to be seen to best effect - something he has a fine chance of getting at Aintree in April. The 11 lb rise that Cloth Cap earned for his Newbury success should almost certainly guarantee him a run, and it would be no surprise should he now be tentatively campaigned until the spring - perhaps over hurdles until the weights are released in February.

Grand National
Cloth Cap silk

Cloth Cap

Cheltenham Festival Races

Kimberlite Candy (Tom Lacey)

As discussed on the site last week, the Becher Chase often proves to be an informative Grand National trial, and it was heart-warming to see the veteran Vieux Lion Rouge win Saturday’s renewal for the second time - adding to his victory back in 2016. That now marks a remarkable nine occasions out of nine that David Pipe’s charge has completed the National Course, and although he’s a fairly competitive 50/1 shout for next year’s Grand National, he just lacks the stamina for this mammoth test.

The race served the purpose of giving several horses (and riders) their first spin over the iconic fences, and one horse who caught the eye was the runner-up, Kimberlite Candy. Like several in this list, he would likely have run in this year’s National had it have taken place, but this was a likeable performance nonetheless, and was the second year in a row that he’s finished as runner-up in the race. Kimberlite Candy clearly appreciates the unique test that Aintree offers, and he outlined himself as a progressive stayer when winning Warwick’s Classic Chase at the beginning of the year.

That win took his mark up to 153, but it served the purpose of showing that extreme distances are within his reach, and there still looks to be some room for manoeuvre as far as his mark is concerned. The presence of the likes of Tiger Roll, Bristol De Mai and Presenting Percy at Aintree in April would ensure that Kimberlite Candy carries a nice racing weight, and the 33/1 that’s currently offer certainly won’t be available on the day.

Grand National
Kimberlite Candy silk

Kimberlite Candy

Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies)

Although we’re more used to seeing Bristol De Mai triumphing at Merseyside’s other track, Haydock Park, Nigel Twiston-Davies has long touted him as an ideal Grand National horse, and he would likely have run in this year’s renewal had it not been abandoned due to the pandemic. He’s a top-class chaser on his day, winning no less than three renewals of the Betfair Chase, though his outstanding record at Haydock has meant that he’s often been rather unfairly pigeon-holed as a course specialist during his career.

That certainly isn’t the case, and he’s shown plenty of high-class form at other tracks, including when a fine third in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and his ability to handle Haydock’s sharp fences certainly set him out as a horse who ought to handle the unique test that Aintree’s National Course poses. Bristol De Mai is technically untried at further than three and a quarter miles, though stamina doesn’t feel as though it would be an issue bearing in mind that Haydock is regularly bottomless, and a more worrying factor about his Aintree chances would be the weight that he’d be forced to carry. Indeed, Bristol De Mai has an official mark of 169, meaning he would have to give away weight to some high-class opponents, something which could prove tough on fast spring ground. It certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge could overcome that, but he looks fairly priced at around 40/1.

Grand National
Bristol De Mai silk

Bristol De Mai

Grand National Tips

Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander)

The second of Trevor Hemmings’ Grand National hopes, Lake View Lad was purchased by his owner at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, and he has previous at Aintree, being pulled-up in the 2019 renewal of the Grand National. He’s a smart chaser at his peak, however, and he shouldn’t be judged on that one attempt - bearing in mind that he was forced to play catch up from an early stage after being rather caught out by the standing start.

Victory in the 2018 Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby saw Lake View Lad’s official rating up towards the 155 mark, and while he didn’t register a victory in three starts in 2019/20, he shaped better than his results suggested. His entry in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at the weekend felt more like a token starting point than a serious ambition due to his ownership, but Lake View Lad defied his odds of 16/1 to produce an excellent performance, defeating three bona fide Grade 1 chasers in Santini, Native River and Frodon to make a winning reappearance. That was a career best effort on the face of things, though it’s worth noting that the fences in the straight had to be omitted due to the low sun. That perhaps takes a little gloss off of the performance, for all that it was hugely likeable, and the handicapper has been far from kind - raising Lake View Lad by 8 lb up to an official rating of 162. He’s going to have a huge task at the weights as a consequence, and bearing in mind that he’s failed to complete on his only try in the race to date, he’s best left at around the 33/1 mark at the time of writing. Instead, it could be worth targeting him at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which in a wide open year could well see a surprise winner.

Grand National
Lake View Lad silk

Lake View Lad

Presenting Percy (Gordon Elliott)

Bearing in mind that he’s one of the leading lights for this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, it feels strange to be suggesting Presenting Percy as a Grand National contender, though his new trainer Gordon Elliott has made no secret of his desire to target both races in the spring.

It certainly could be a case of trying to make up for lost time with the nine-year-old, who has been touted as a potentially top-class chaser ever since his victory in the 2018 RSA Chase, but he rather flattered to deceive in two subsequent seasons with Patrick Kelly. There is plenty of talent there with Presenting Percy, however, and his switch to Cullentra House could prove to be an inspired one - bearing in mind he looked every inch a top-class performer when defeating Kemboy in a listed contest at Thurles last month.

The main sticking point with Presenting Percy as far as the Grand National is concerned will be weight, and his current Irish rating of 169 would see him facing the prospect of having to carry top weight. Gordon Elliott is no stranger to National glory, winning the race three times in the past 15 years, but this feels like a huge ask for Presenting Percy, who hasn’t always convinced with his jumping during his career. He undoubtedly has the talent to make his presence felt in a Grand National, but a hard race in the Gold Cup could see him miss this altogether, and the 20/1 that’s currently on offer feels too short.

Grand National
Presenting Percy silk

Presenting Percy

Grand National Odds
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