A horse racing fixture since 1839, the Aintree Grand National (official website) – run in 2014 as the Crabbie’s Grand National – is undoubtedly one of the greatest spectacles in world sport. It is the one race above all others that focuses the minds of the British sporting public.
The Grand National betting tempts a wide range of people, from experienced bettors to those who just ‘fancy a flutter’, with attractive double or triple-figure Grand National odds that offer the prospect of lucrative returns for small stakes.
In recent years, such speculative punts have reaped rich rewards for those who have found the right horse. 2007 saw Gordon Elliott’s Silver Birch romp to glory at Grand National best odds of 33/1. Two years later, the Venetia Williams-trained Mon Mome, a 100/1 rank outsider, came home under Liam Treadwell to land the unlikeliest of victories, whilst in 2013, Yorkshire-based Sue Smith sent out the unheralded Aurora’s Encore to win at Grand National odds of a whopping 66/1!
It is big priced winners coupled with the thorough unpredictability of the four-and-a-half mile marathon that makes the race such an amazing event, and the 2014 Grand National will certainly be no exception.
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Now is a good time to take a look through the likely contenders, with a number having had their final pre-National outing at the Cheltenham Festival.
Last year’s Grand National third, Teaforthree (trained by Rebecca Curtis), enhanced his claims to go two better at Aintree on 5thApril when running with plenty of credit in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He held every chance until weakening after the third from home as quicker horses got away from him over a distance a mile-and-a-quarter shorter than the marathon trip he relishes at Aintree. In the end, Teaforthree came home eighth behind Lord Windermere but many observers believe that this run will have put him spot on for the Grand National. He is now amongst the favourites to come out best of the likely 40 starters who will tackle no less than 30 massive spruce fences in the race that tests stamina, jumping ability and raw courage more than any other in the racing world.
One horse whose Grand National odds were slashed as a result of a truly outstanding performance at Cheltenham was the Willie Mullins-trained On His Own, who also ran in the Gold Cup after being supplemented only a week before the big race. The 10-year-old made much of the running in the top-class steeplechase until being outpaced as the pace really quickened after the fourth last. At that point, it looked as though the decision by his owners, Graham and Andrea Wylie, to pay a serious amount of money to add him to the big race had backfired, but the gelded son of Presenting produced an amazing rally from the home turn, powering up the hill after the final fence and in the end going down with all guns blazing to just a short-head defeat at the hands of the surprise winner Lord Windermere.
On His Own has fallen in the last two Grand Nationals but connections will certainly be hoping it will be third time lucky. His Grand National betting odds have understandably been shortened following his great run at Cheltenham, and if his titanic struggle with the eventual Gold Cup winner hasn’t taken the edge off him, the Irish horse will certainly be one on the short list of many people assessing the Grand National odds and looking for genuine value.
Nicky Henderson’s Long Run has been a top-class chaser for some years but has clearly been on the downgrade over the last 12 months since his 2012 King George VI Chase win over Captain Chris. A horse who appears to stay well and has loads of class, his owner Robert Waley-Cohen has long dreamed of winning the “world’s greatest steeplechase”. He and his amateur jockey son Sam came agonizingly close when their Oscar Time finished runner-up to Ballabriggs in the 2011 renewal before they again defied massive Grand National odds of 66/1 in finishing fourth behind Aurora’s Encore last year.
Long Run bypassed the Gold Cup so he could arrive fresh at Aintree on the first Saturday in April and although he will have to carry plenty of weight, there are many people who think the star French-bred gelding might well be good enough to write another fairytale into Grand National history as an amateur rider bids to beat the professionals in the toughest race on the planet. It would also be a dream come true for champion British jumps trainer Nicky Henderson, who has attempted to win the race for more than 30 years and has finished in the places on a number of occasions.
One other major contender according to the latest ante-post Grand National odds is the remarkable 13-year-old Tidal Bay, who, like On His Own, is owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie. This enigma of a racehorse appears to be very nearly as good at his advanced age as he has been at any other time in his long and illustrious career. Third under a huge weight in bottomless ground in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow’s Christmas meeting, the Paul Nicholls-trained star then went on to finish a fine second to Last Instalment in the Grade 1 Irish Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, a race he won in sensational fashion 12 months earlier when coming from very nearly last to first in the home straight.
Like Long Run, Tidal Bay is a very classy performer who will be burdened with a big weight, but many sentimental punters, as well as those who appreciate this horse’s extraordinary talents, will be seen to avail themselves of the best Grand National odds and will expect to get a good run for their money.
The long and very wet winter saw many people anticipate soft ground at Aintree for the Grand National and horses with proven form on easy ground have long featured prominently in the ante-post Grand National odds. Of late, however, the weather has taken a marked turn for the better and there is every chance that on the day of the big race, the 40 runners will be asked to tackle the daunting Grand National on decent ground, a factor that will certainly impact on the Grand National betting odds on the big day.
Recent refinements to the construction of the massive Grand National fences have seen more horses successfully complete the course. It appears that only very soft or heavy ground will result in just a handful of finishers in the manner of the extraordinary race seen in a quagmire back in 2001 when the Richard Guest-ridden Red Marauder (33/1) beat the gallant Smarty as the pair slogged their way home through the final mile, the race solely concerning them as the rest had either fallen or ground to a halt in the bog-like conditions. In the end only four runners finished the race.
With four places for each-way betting purposes, along with a dizzying array of special and novelty bets associated with the big race, there is something for every punter on Grand National day.
When the runners finish the parade in front of the packed Aintree stands and arrive at the start – a new start for the 2014 Grand National as it has been moved 110 yards nearer the first fence in order to slow the cavalry charge to the first obstacle – there will be an estimated world-wide television audience in excess of 600 million people across 140 countries.
The 2014 Grand National is a truly world-class sports event, giving those who normally see just the major Flat races in Europe, South Africa, the Far East, Australia or North America a chance to see the uniquely British steeplechasing showcase contest that takes around nine minutes to run. The winner will write their name forever in the history books and will be guaranteed superstar status for the rest of their life. This goes not just for the horse, but also for the jockey and trainer, and in some cases the owner of a Grand National winner can become a household name as well.
The 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National looks to have attracted one of the highest quality entries in living memory and ensures the future of this tremendous event that produces more than £60million in Grand National betting on one outstanding race alone.