Katenko and Mossey Joe are my two horses to take out of the announcement of the weights for the Grand National in April. However, it could be said that Tidal Bay and Long Run have been given a chance by the handicapper who has allotted relatively low weights to the best horses to bring more other horse into the handicap.
The weights for the National were announced at a function at the Abbey Road Studios in London where The Beatles recorded much of their material. The handicapper has to access the relative form of each horse but also had to consider the ‘National Factor’. The fences at Aintree are unique and horses can either love or hate the experience. The trick is to give each horse a fair chance of winning the race without giving any entrant a significant advantage over the rest of the field.
The Grand National is a handicap and as such each horse is allocated a weight based on its proven ability. The purpose of the handicapping system is to give each horse an equal chance of winning. However, there is a minimum weight of 10 stone which means any horse perceived to be inferior to that level will have to carry 10 stone. These horses are known as running out of the handicap as the allotted weight is greater than their proven ability justifies.
The horse given top weight will frame the rest of the handicap. The top weight in the National usually carries about 11 stone 10 pounds which means the range of weights from top to bottom covers 24 pounds. The higher the top weight the greater the scope for horses at the bottom of the handicap to carry their correct weight.
Katenko has not necessarily been thrown in but on past form has been given a weight that gives him a chance of being competitive. This was a horse that looked a contender for last year’s Gold Cup before injury intervened. Katenko’s run at Haydock recently where he almost won a competitive handicap with a big weight suggests he can compete at Aintree.
The horse is trained by Venetia Williams who had Mon Mome under her care when that horse won the National in 2009. She is just about the most successful trainer in Britain at the moment and rarely does a Saturday go by without her winning a big televised race. Katenko’s jockey is also a National winner and they have found another live prospect this year.
The handicapper has admitted he was puzzled about Mossey Joe and the horse allotted weight could be eight pounds too much or too little. Salsify has won the last two Foxhunters’ at the Cheltenham Festival, though the second time luckily. The horse was still considered the best hunter chaser in Britain and Ireland. Mossey Joe beat Salsify by 20 lengths at Stratford last summer.
There is now no doubt that Mossey Joe is the best horse in the hunter division. The problem is comparing form at that level with form in top class races. The two types of horse rarely appear in the same contests and its only races like the National in which the two disciplines meet. Mossey Joe is entered for the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham but may miss that target and go straight to Aintree.
Tidal Bay and Long Run are my two ante post selections for the first million pound National. Both Long Run and Tidal Bay are trained more than 200 miles away from Aintree racecourse. However they will have to travel four miles, three and a half furlongs to complete the Grand National course. The distance was reduced last year to limit the build up of speed to the first fence.
Both horses have won championship races at the Cheltenham Festival in the past but are now embarking on a different phase of their careers. As past champions they are proven at the highest level in Grade 1 chases at the most important meeting of the year. The National and its unique fences and distance will be a new experience for both horses but they have the form to figure in the race.
On past form Long Run could be at the top or very close to the top of the handicap in the National. L’Escartgot was the last horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and National but in 1971 and 1975. Long Run won the Gold Cup in 2011 so will trying to win both great races after a year less gap between the Gold Cup and National wins for L’Escargot. In trying to win the King George for the third time in December Long Run unseated the jockey at the last when well beaten.
Even though Long Run is just nine years of age winning more Grade 1 races may be beyond him. A British reared and trained jumper reaches its peak at this age but Long Run was a precocious horse in France, running in chases aged four. This might be the right time to look at the big handicaps for the horse of which the National is the most lucrative.
Tidal Bay is 13 and only two horses of that age have won the Grand National, the latest being in 1923. The word quirky could have been invented for Tidal Bay who won the Arkle Chase in 2008 aged seven. At the time he was trained by Howard Johnson who has had some professional difficulties and Tidal Bay was moved to the Paul Nicholls stable.
Since the switch the horse has been rejuvenated and the highlights of the latest phase of his career was winning the Lexus Chase in Ireland in 2012 and the Betfred, formerly Whitbread, Chase at Sandown in the same year. That means the horse has carried a big weight to win a competitive handicap. Something similar will be needed to win the National for which Tidal Bay and Long Run are leading contenders and my two against the field at the time of writing 6 weeks ahead of the race. However, Katenko and Mosey Joe are now also on my list after the weights were recently announced.