The national hunt season is now getting into top gear and with that upping of the ante will come the first murmurings of potential plots to land the Grand National at Aintree in the spring.
Winning the world’s most famous steeplechase does not come easy. It requires a lot of talent, luck and good timing – but perhaps more than ever, winning the Grand National requires months of careful planning too. Here are four potential contenders for ultimate glory in the world’s most talked-about horse race come 2017.
Now trained by Gordon Elliott having made the move from Willie Mullins’ yard this autumn, Aintree already looks to be the most viable spring destination for Don Poli. Third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup back in March, his no-show on his first start for Elliott at Down Royal will surely scupper any plans to head back to the Cotswolds for the Blue Ribband in 2017. Bad as his reappearance was, Elliott will surely get to the bottom of that run and bring Don Poli back slowly. Never the quickest horse, he has the jumping ability and enough class to suggest that four miles around Aintree would place him in a very positive light. If he makes the race, Don Poli will be hugely popular in the betting on the Grand National.
The Druids Nephew
Neil Mulholland’s charge has already had two goes at the Grand National with vastly differing results. In 2015, he was tanking along in the lead with five to jump when coming a cropper under Aidan Coleman. Many felt that run marked him out as a contender for 2016 but, in truth, his hopes this year were all but gone before the tapes went up. The rain that arrived to turn the Aintree track heavy in places did nothing for The Druids Nephew and he was duly pulled up having never appeared comfortable. It might be worth forgiving that run if he comes back for a third tilt in 2017.
Jonjo O’Neill’s dual Cheltenham Festival scorer, Holywell, was tipped by many for a big run around Aintree in the 2016 Grand National. Like many, the pre-race rain would have done little to inspire his supporters on the day of the race. Richie McLernon’s mount scarcely had time to settle to his task before taking a fall at the second fence. It was not the most encouraging start to his Grand National career but at nine-years-old the gelding has time to bounce back. Aintree on decent ground would surely give Holywell a chance to redeem himself.
It really would be a treat to see Carlingford Lough pitching up in this race in 2017. John Kiely’s charge is already a multiple Grade One-winning chaser and owner JP McManus will surely be tempted to take a punt on the Grand National as the consistent performer enters the autumn of his career. Carlingford Lough has been touted for this race in the past but typically turned up at the Cheltenham Festival instead. There are many reasons to believe the Aintree test would suit Carlingford Lough, but none more encouraging than his Irish Gold Cup success in February. Scrimmaged along by Mark Walsh a long way out, Carlingford Lough appeared to gain new life over the last, with his stamina clear for all to see at the end of three-miles in soft ground. The Aintree marathon could be just the test for him.