Just four weeks after the UK’s most celebrated jump racing event – the Cheltenham Festival – Ireland’s two dominant trainers are sending some of their big guns to the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday. The media, of course, sometimes like to artificially construct rivalries in sport. But the one between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott is surely one to behold.
Recently, their results have been nothing short of incredible. Of the 28 races at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, Elliott and Mullins took 15 wins between them. To put that feat into perspective, that’s more wins than the top trainer at the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Festivals combined.
Irish dominance at Cheltenham has been the norm in recent years, but they haven’t been just as dominant at the Grand National – Britain’s most prominent horse race. Both Elliott (Silver Birch, 2007) and Mullins (Hedgehunter, 2005) have trained a Grand National winner before, but British trainers have more or less been on top in the last decade.
However, Elliott and Mullins will be bringing some of the big favourites to Aintree on Saturday, with a sense that the time is ripe for one of the pair to land a second victory in the National. Here is a quick guide to their chances. If you want to back any with a bookmaker’s promotion, check out this list of Grand National free bets 2018.
Total Recall (Willie Mullins) 11/1 (various bookmakers)
Total Recall set tongues wagging about a potential Grand National run with a win in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase in December. He followed that up with a win in the William Fry Handicap Hurdle in February. However, the blot on 9-year-old’s copybook was a fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup a few weeks ago. Punters will be weighing in on Total Recall if only because he is one of the favourites and he bears the Mullins name, but he has not demonstrated that the gruelling slog of the Grand National is his type of race.
Tiger Roll (Gordon Elliott) 12/1 (Paddy Power)
One of those horses that can win a belter of a race one month, then run poorly for no apparent reason the next. Tiger Roll is now a three-time Cheltenham Festival winner, which puts him in exalted company. A horse that seems to love the big occasions and one that can handle the trip over 4 miles 2 furlongs and 74 yards. He looks in splendid form as we approach the Aintree showcase.
Advice: Big chance
Pleasant Company (Mullins) 40/1 (William Hill)
A commendable ninth-place finish in last year’s Grand National will mean Pleasant Company should have a few supporters, given that he has demonstrated he can handle the trip and those tough Aintree fences. Recent outings – 14th in the Paddy Power Chase and pulling up at Gowran Park in January – will turn many off however.
Advice: Needs a big improvement
Ucello Conti (Elliott) 20/1 (various)
This will be Ucello Conti’s third crack at the Grand National, finishing sixth in 2016 and unseating Daryl Jacob when taking Becher’s Brook last year. Was in the same two races as Pleasant Company this season, finishing second to Anibale Fly in the Paddy Power Chase and also pulling up at Gowran Park.
Advice: Could really be in the mix
Childrens List (Mullins) 80/1 (Hills, Coral)
Was well beaten in his only outing at Aintree (12th of 19 in the Gaskells Handicap Hurdle in 2016). The National really doesn’t look his race, although his chasing form is not bad. The 8-year-old is also entered for Friday’s Topham Chase at the moment, and that looks a more likely destination.
Bless The Wings (Elliott) 66/1 (various)
When betting on the National, you ideally want to have a horse in reasonable form: In his five races this season Bless The Wings has pulled up three times, fallen once (Glenfarclas Chase, Cheltenham) and won the other.
Advice: An each-way chance if he finishes the race