Geoff Lester
3 minute read
6 Apr 2017
11:32 am

Dry weather is likely to suit Ucello Conti

Geoff Lester

Grand National carries stake of 1-million pounds for first time.

CONDITIONS SUITED. The dry weather could work in favour of Ucello Conti in Saturday's Grand National at Aintree.

What makes the Grand National the greatest jumps race in the world? Well, it’s unique with 40 runners facing 30 of the most formidable fences in the sport, including Becher’s Brook and The Chair, where jockeys have freely admitted that they have closed their eyes and said a prayer.

For the first time at Aintree on

Saturday the biggest betting extravaganza of the season carries £1m (R17.2 million) in prize money, making it the richest jumps race outside Japan.

No wonder bookmakers love the National. It’s a lottery and besides record turnover, they invariably get a “boil over” result, with the last five winners being 25-1 (twice), 33-1 (twice) and 66-1 – and go back just eight years and we had a 100-1 winner.

It’s true that the race attracts a better calibre of horse these days, but having the stamina for this marathon 6800m trip makes it a severe test, and being able to cope with these ‘drop’ fences means more than being on the right side of the handicapper.

This year’s renewal looks so open that it’s hard to guess what will start favourite, let alone win the race, but my three against the field are UCELLO CONTI, THE LAST SAMURI and MORE OF THAT.

The latter pair head the weights, but with the going drying up through the week that should not be a problem, and it will also help Ucello Conti, who tired over the last two fences on rain-softened ground last year, eventually finishing sixth.

Ucello Conti, whose Irish trainer Gordon Elliott enjoyed a fantastic Cheltenham Festival last month, has been brought along steadily through the winter and the vibes from Co Meath are encouraging, especially since the sun started to shine this week.

The Last Samuri, a brave runner- up 12 months ago, has also been trained with this one day in mind, and connections were delighted with his prep-run, an excellent second to Definitely Red at Doncaster, where the soft ground suited the re-opposing winner far more than it did him.

Barry Geraghty told me three years ago that More of That had what it takes to be a Gold Cup horse, and but for capsizing at the last in the Irish version at Leopardstown in February he might well have fulfilled that prediction.

Granted, More Of That ran no more than an ok race to finish sixth at Cheltenham last time, but trainer Jonjo O’Neill, whose team are now in better form, is uncharacteristically bullish about his chance, and the gelding is one of the class horses in the race.

Cause of Causes, a stablemate of Ucello Conti, joined an elite group when winning a race at Cheltenham for the third time last month, but Blaklion, though with solid claims on form, is onlyand  might need another year, while Vieux Lion Rouge, who did not get home last year, could again find the closing stages too much.

I’m not sure that Saphir du Rheu, the shortest priced of the five runners being saddled by champion trainer Paul Nicholls, quite has “the bottle” for this race, and fancied Scottish challenger  One For Arthur is too slow and might struggle to stay in touch early on.