The Grand National run at Aintree on Saturday has a potent mix of previous winners, race regulars, course specialists and newcomers.
Customers looking to place a bet on the Grand National can stake £10 and get another £10 free with BetVictor, who will also be paying six places and 1/4 odds on the world famous race.
This year it also has the Gold Cup winner, with Synchronised set to line up at 4.15pm UK time along with 39 others for a race that is not the lottery that most people (the once-a-year punters especially) seem to think. Sure, it's not impossible for any of the runners to win and the 30 fences, despite their modifications, will still take their toll, but by applying some basic principles we can narrow down the field to a manageable size by a process of elimination and find the winner, hopefully.
Right, let's start with the current favourite Synchronised who has undoubtedly solid form claims, but would be the first horse to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same reason since Golden Miller in 1936. The four-week gap between Festivals this time will help his cause but I can't see it myself. One down, 39 to go.
A few years ago you could safely rule out anything carrying 11st or more but this is no longer the case with the quality of runners taking part increasing every year. However, the fact remains that only the legendary Red Rum has won with 11st 8lb or more on his back and only one of the last 27 winners - Don't Push It in 2010 - has carried more than 11st 6lb, so those horses fromDeep Purple up are discarded, and that includes last year's winner Ballabriggs.
It goes without saying that winning form over at least 3m is essential, so it's goodbye to one of Ireland's big hopes Seabass, who has been doing all his winning over much shorter, and Tatanen, who has as much chance of staying as the winner of the 5f handicap at Wolverhampton!
I hate to be ageist but Hello Bud and Black Apalachi are surely too old at 13 and 14 respectively, as are the twelve-year-oldsState Of Play, Mon Mome, The Midnight Club, Vic Venturi and In Compliance. At the other end of the age spectrum, this has to be a year too soon for the seven-year-olds Organisedconfusion, Tharawaat and Viking Blond. Besides, non of that trio sound like National winners to me.
I reckon that's half the field gone and we can thin these out some more by putting a line through anything priced at 33/1 or bigger as there have already been two such winners in the past decade, and it will surely be a while longer before we get another one. Well, that's the theory.
The going will be key for some of those left in at this stage with Shakalakaboomboom definitely having a preference for good ground, while Le Beau Bai and Giles Cross are heavy ground lovers. The reality is it will be somewhere in between with 'good, good to soft in places' favourite in my mind.
Of course jumping is the name of the game and that is a distinct worry for the likes of Chicago Grey, Arbor Supreme (failed to jump round in his last two attempts, Sunnyhillboy, Becauseicouldntsee (came a cropper at the second 12 months ago), andKillyglen, who admittedly was still going well when falling four out. I'm also going to rule out Junior on this score as he does get pretty low at times, and besides horses wearing blinkers (as he will be doing on Saturday) have a poor record.
And then there were six: According To Pete, West End Rocker, On His Own, Always Right, Cappa Bleu and Treacle.Time to be brutal and the first casualty is Always Right who has form figures of 'PP' coming into this race, which just doesn't look right to me. On His Own was a brilliant winner of the Thyestes Chase last time and is the chosen mount of Ruby Walsh, so I'm loathe to leave him out, but I've a sneaky suspicion he might be best going right-handed. I might be clutching at straws here.
Decision time now. The rains have come at the right time for West End Rocker but so has the money and he's no bigger than 14/1 now. Treacle finished third in a Grade 1 last time and was beaten less than a length in the 26-runner Paddy Power at Leopardstown, which is compelling form. According to Pete has been in great form this season, winning two big handicaps, and his trainer was in double form at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, for the winner it has to be CAPPA BLEU, who was an easy winner of the Cheltenham Foxhunter in 2009 and has looked as good as ever this season, finishing third in the Welsh National on ground that was too soft (should be perfect for him on Saturday), and running a fine trial when a staying-on third at Ascot in February. A strong traveller and sound jumper, he ought to relish this test of stamina and his trainer Evan Williams, who has sent out State Of Play to finish in the frame for the past three years, reckons there might be more improvement to come.
He's a 14/1 shot with BetVictor, who have place terms of one quarter the odds, six places, and that looks a good bit of business to me.
My Grand National Picks:
1. Cappa Bleu
3. According To Pete
4. West End Rocker