There is just over a fortnight until the 172nd running of the world's greatest and most valuable chase, the £1-million Randox Health Grand National.
A total of 81 horses, up from 73 at the same stage in 2018, remain engaged in the famous four mile, two furlong and 74-yard handicap chase, which takes place at Aintree at 5.15pm on Saturday, April 6, day three of the Randox Health Grand National Festival.
Tiger Roll (Gordon Elliott, 11st 1lb) captured the 2018 Randox Health Grand National and appeared in the form of his life when sauntering to a facile 22-length in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham on March 13. The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old won the same contest in 2018 ahead of his Aintree victory.
If successful at Aintree on April 6, Tiger Roll would become the first back-to-back winner of the great race since Red Rum in 1973 and 1974. He is the 5/1 favourite with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival.
Tiger Roll (far side) wins the 2018 Randox Health Grand National
The weights continue to be headed by Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 11st 10lb, 20/1 with Betway) and Anibale Fly (Tony Martin, 11st 6lb, 12/1). Both horses contested the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15, with Anibale Fly finishing the two and a half-length runner-up to Al Boum Photo, with Bristol De Mai another three and three-quarter lengths back in third.
Bristol De Mai, pictures Aintree Racecourse
Other Randox Health Grand National aspirants to have run at Cheltenham include the Trevor Hemmings-owned pair of Vintage Clouds (Sue Smith, 10st, 12/1) and Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander, 10st 11lb, 18/1), who both performed well when second and third respectively in the G3 Ultima Handicap Chase.
Hemmings has already tasted Randox Health Grand National success three times through Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015). If successful in 2019, he will become the most successful owner of all-time in the world's greatest chase.
Ireland's champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins finally broke his Cheltenham Gold Cup hoodoo last week when saddling Al Boum Photo to success. Mullins, who tasted Aintree glory with Hedgehunter in 2005, has a strong team of seven going forward, including last year's head runner-up Pleasant Company (10st 11lb, 25/1), recent Leinster National victor Pairofbrowneyes (10st, 25/1) and G2 Bobbyjo Chase scorer Rathvinden (10st 10lb, 12/1).
If saddling the winner at Aintree this year, Mullins would become the first trainer to win both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season since Fred Rimell in 1976, who scored at Cheltenham with Royal Frolic and at Aintree with Rag Trade.
Senior BHA chase handicapper Martin Greenwood handicapped the Randox Health Grand National for the first time in 2019 following the retirement of Phil Smith, who officiated from 1999 to 2018.
The Randox Health Grand National is the only race in the calendar where Greenwood is allowed to deviate from official ratings and the weights for the 172nd Randox Health Grand National at Aintree were revealed at the iconic Cunard Building in Liverpool on February 12.
With the Cheltenham Festival and other leading Grand National trials now having been run, Greenwood gave his thoughts on how ratings for some horses have changed since the weights were revealed. No penalties are applied to horses who have won since the publication of the weights.
Greenwood said: "In total, over 50 per cent of the ratings have changed one way or another since the weights came out. This includes over 50 per cent of horses who are currently in the top 40.
"Working downwards from the top of the weights, I thought Bristol De Mai ran very well in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He possibly didn't get home over such a stiff track and is 4lb well-in for Aintree.
"Anibale Fly ran a personal best to finish second in the Gold Cup and is going to be 8lb well-in, with his rating now 172. He was 9lb well-in last year, when finishing fourth, but, as I said at the time, I think he ran better than the bare result suggests.
"I have possibly underestimated Tiger Roll's win in the Cross Country, putting him up another 8lb to a rating of 167. His hurdle success before Cheltenham (the G2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan on February 17) suggested that he was on the way back and his Cheltenham performance has backed that up.
"Looking further down the weights, I thought Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad both ran excellent races in the Ultima Handicap Chase. I have put up Lake View Lad 3lb and Vintage Clouds 5lb. As things stand, Vintage Clouds needs five horses above him to come out to get a run in the Randox Health Grand National. There are currently five horses on a rating of 144, but three of those have already dropped in the ratings which will work in Vintage Clouds' favour.
"Rathvinden ran a personal best when winning the Bobbyjo Chase. He has never actually run in handicap and is 8lb well-in.
"An under the radar horse could be Jury Duty (Gordon Elliott, 10st 7lb, 33/1) who won at Down Royal on Saturday (a conditions chase over three and a quarter miles). He won in America last year (the G1 Grand National Hurdle at Far Hills) and is going to be 6lb well-in.
"Ramses De Teillee (David Pipe, 10st 5lb, 33/1)is 5lb well-in following his second in the G3 Grand National Trial at Haydock, while Ms Parfois (Anthony Honeyball, 10st 2lb, 25/1) is 7lb well-in for her excellent second in the G3 Midlands Grand National last weekend.
"Pairofbrowneyes is 10lb well-in after hacking up at Naas and. other than Potter's Corner (Christian Williams, 9st 2lb, 50/1), who is 13lb well-in but very unlikely to get a run, is the horse who has seen his rating rise the most since the weights were published."
Looking ahead in general terms to the 2019 Randox Health Grand National, Greenwood continued: "What already looked a hot race, now looks even hotter if you take all the well-in horses into account.
"If I was a punter, I am not sure where I would go as you could make a case for so many horses.
"At the moment, 10st 2lb (a rating of 146) is the cut-off point. You would imagine some horses will come out. I suggested at the weights launch that a rating of 142ish would be required to obtain a run and I think the horses down there still have a sneak of getting in.
"Tiger Roll is a very short price and, as I say, I could have underrated him - Cross County races are probably the most difficult to assess. He never came off the bridle at Cheltenham and it was an incredibly impressive performance.
"His claims for a second Grand National look very strong, although you could argue there are several other horses in the race with strong claims given what they have achieved since the weights came out."
The next acceptance stage for the 2019 Randox Health Grand National is at the five-day stage at noon on Monday, April 1. The maximum permitted field size is 40 runners, with four reserves.
Randox Health Grand National, Betway prices:
5/1 Tiger Roll
12/1 Anibale Fly, Rathvinden, Vintage Clouds
18/1 Lake View Lad
20/1 Bristol De Mai
25/1 Rock the Kasbah, Pairofbrowneyes, Minella Rocco, General Principle, Mall Dini, Step Back, Up for Review, Ms Parfois, Pleasant Company, Walk in the Mill, One for Arthur
33/1 Jury Duty, Blaklion, Dounikos, Ramses De Teillee, Valtor, Abolitionist, Captain Redbeard, Carole's Destrier, Alpha Des Obeaux
40/1 Folsom Blue, Impulsive Star, The Young Master, Go Conquer, Vieux Lion Rouge, Out Sam, Noble Endeavor, Warriors Tale
50/1 Ultragold, Baie Des Iles, Mala Beach, Don Poli, Cogry, Potters Corner, Livelovelaugh, Yala Enki, Borice, Isleofhopendreams, The Storyteller, Ballyoptic, Sandymount Duke, Joe Farrell, Daklondike, Shattered Love, Singlefarmpayment, Monbeg Notorious
66/1 Blow by Blow, Sub Lieutenant, Tea for Two, Regal Encore, Red Infantry, Polidam, Outlander, Mr Diablo, Valseur Lido, Fact of the Matter, Milansbar, Measureofmydreams, Vieux Morvan, Magic of Light, Bless the Wings, A Toi Phil
80/1 Call it Magic, Looking Well, Shantou Village
100/1 Ziga Boy, Kilcrea Vale, Kingswell Theatre, Highland Lodge, Splash of Ginge, Scoir Mear, Exitas, Just A Par
150/1 Morney Wing, Rathlin Rose
Each-Way ¼ odds - 1, 2, 3, 4