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Never mind Christmas, shop early for the National
Picking the winner of the Crabbie’s Grand National is hard enough in April, looking ahead to the great race from as far away as December feels like picking the FA Cup winner on the basis of the third-round draw. There is so much that can happen along the way that making this any more than a guessing game is a challenge in itself.
Shop early for the National
     by  stacey.cavanagh
That said, there is the old saying that whilst form is temporary, class is always worth keeping your eye on. There are one or two who are already beginning to look like the ante post Grand National odds might be worth dipping into - just as a Christmas present to yourself you understand.

Mendip Express looked to be getting to grips with the Aintree fences recently when run into a sporting second by the veteran Oscar Time in the Becher Chase. That run and trainer Harry Fry’s upbeat assessment of his charge’s showing saw him trimmed from 33s to around 25/1 in the markets, but the Seaborough handler was notably coy as to the eight-year-old’s next move. Watch that space.

Leading the market currently is another eight-year-old in Shutthefrontdoor. A win in the Irish National suggests that a recent operation to open up a breathing problem has done Jonjo O’Neill’s youngster the world of good. It’s worth noting that O’Neill’s record in the national also offers plenty of encouragement (a first, a second and a third in the past five years) for an each-way interest at least. The sentiment that is bound to follow on from such a popular pairing will see value all the harder to come by once the market really picks up. On that basis, Shutthefrontdoor looks like one to back sooner or not at all.

The statistics don’t favour the eight-year-old brigade, however. Only two of the last 30 winners have been in that age category. That suggests the know-how and the stamina that come with age make for a sounder target. That sort of logic inevitably brings last year’s winner into the frame. Pineau de Re will be running as a 12-year-old on April 11th, although a notably quiet 2014 following last year’s success makes any predictions difficult to substantiate. Certainly, trailing in 11th out of 12 in his only start - Cheltenham’s Ultima Business Solutions Handicap at the start of December - did nothing to set the pulse racing. Throw in the inevitable handicapper’s contribution and for all the form shown by trainer Dr. Richard Newland’s yard, Pineau de Re has the look of a one-hit wonder.

Many Clouds’ win in the Hennessy Gold Cup was more eye catching, with jockey Leighton Aspell - who was on board Pineau de Re last year - enjoying another winning ride. Showing admirable stamina for a seven-year-old, Many Clouds’ willingness to hold off Merry King and Houblon Des Obeaux points to a horse with genuine class. That Hennessey success has attracted some interest and it surely won’t be the last.

One more with credentials worth considering is Rebecca Curtis’s TeaforThree.  Last year’s third place has consistently proven to be one for the big occasion - not least in the Welsh National and the National Hunt Chase. Impeccable jumping combining with a favourable nod from the handicapper (down two pounds from his 2013 weight) suggest that - barring accidents - Teaforthree won’t be far away come the final shake up.

It says something about the potency of the National that so many people are turning their attention towards an event for which the field has not yet even been declared. But there is only one Grand National. Never mind the Cup final, it is the sporting event of the spring, even if it is just that little bit harder to call.
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