Grand National

Vieux Lion Rouge 11/1 For Grand National Joy

2017-04-04
Favourite backers have found it hard to find Grand National winners in recent years but confidence is growing that Vieux Lion Rouge could become the third market leader to prevail at Aintree in the last decade.

Favourite backers have found it hard to find Grand National winners in recent years but confidence is growing that Vieux Lion Rouge could become the third market leader to prevail at Aintree in the last decade.

Comply Or Die landed a huge gamble for David Pipe when backed in to 7/1 before obliging in 2008 and the same trainer has the bookies running scared this year.

After finishing seventh in the race 12 months ago, Vieux Lion Rouge (11/1) returned to Liverpool to bag a brave victory over Highland Lodge in December's Becher Chase over the National fences.

The eight-year-old then stayed on strongly to beat Blaklion (14/1) in Haydock's Grand National Trial to further advertise his claims for landing the big one.

Tom Scudamore was in the saddle for both of those victories and said: "He seems to have matured an awful lot this year and I certainly wouldn't be swapping him for anything at this stage.

"The initial thought last year was that he just ran out of stamina but he is a very different horse now. As soon as he won the Becher Chase, to me the National was the obvious race for him.

"He looked beaten jumping the last in the Becher but from the elbow he just ground it out. The further he has gone the better he has gone.

"At Haydock, turning into the straight you would say he had a bit to find with Gas Line Boy and Blaklion but by the time he got to the winning line he was well on top.

"You would like to think the way he finishes his races and the way he kept galloping over three and a half at Haydock last time, that four and a bit will be within his radar."

Scudamore will be making a 16th attempt to break his duck in this race and his father Peter, eight-times champion jockey, failed to come out on top but grandfather Michael did do the business in 1959 on Oxo.

"It would mean an awful lot in so many ways," declared Tom. "Obviously, grandad was lucky enough to win it and to have 'Grand National win' on the CV would be wonderful.

"There are not many things on a Saturday that would take the Premier League football off the back pages of the national papers. It is the main jewel in our crown that gains a worldwide audience and that makes it very special."

Peter Scudamore's best effort in his riding days was third place in 1985 but he will be chasing victory this term with One For Arthur (14/1) as assistant trainer to his partner Lucinda Russell.

This eight-year-old was a close fifth in the Becher Chase and then powered home by six lengths in the 20-runner Classic Chase at Warwick in January.

"Scu plays a big part in the yard but the one thing above all else he has brought is professionalism," said Kinross-based Russell.

"He's worked for all the great trainers and cherry picked the best bits, he's a real perfectionist.

"Everyone knows his record in the National isn't great but he's left no stone unturned in Arthur's prep.

"His form has really stacked up well. I hope he's got the class, he's gone up a lot in the ratings but he's still got a fine weight.

"There's a great buzz about the place, all our horses are very important to us but we have every day mapped out for him, he means a lot to the yard."

Highland Lodge (33/1) didn't have a high enough rating to get a run in last year's contest after winning the 2015 Becher Chase but that isn't a problem after his short-head second to Vieux Lion Rouge this term.

The 11-year-old will return to Aintree fresh as a daisy and his handler Jimmy Moffatt said: "We've had an uninterrupted preparation and the horse seems in very good form.

"He missed the final cut by seven last year and it was quite tough to take at the time. However, we definitely feel he's improved since.

"Whether it was the good summer's grass he had or just that he's taken time to settle into our routine I'm not sure but for whatever reason he's just doing the job a lot better this year.

"We've kept him fresh since the Becher. He doesn't need to go to the races, he's one of those horses that thrives on not going there. For a lot of horses, mileage is a negative and he's one of them."

Victory for Highland Lodge would also be an emotional tale, with jockey Henry Brooke recovering from a heavy fall at Hexham in early October that left him in a coma after suffering nine broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Owners Simon and Julie Wilson also tragically lost their teenage son Patrick from a brain tumour last year.

"The last day Patrick went racing was when Highland Lodge won the Becher and he led the horse into the winner's enclosure - you can imagine how emotional it is for everyone involved," added Moffatt.

Saphir Du Rheu (20/1) was a Grade One novice chase winner at Aintree's Grand National festival two years ago and has returned to form this year with a 15-length strike at Kelso and then fifth place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Trainer Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to win this race after being successful with Neptune Collenges in 2012 and owner Andy Stewart is excited to be heading to Merseyside with a live chance.

"It's the most amazing race, 870 million people watch it in over 140 countries," he said. "It is the most watched sporting event in the world, even ahead of the World Cup.

"To have a horse with a chance is great, Saphir is a few pounds well-in now, he wasn't beaten far in the Gold Cup and he's won a Grade One at Liverpool.

"After that, Paul said he was a Gold Cup horse but he'd been disappointing for a couple of years. The win up at Kelso did him the world of good and he must have a good chance.

"We expected him to be beaten about 20 lengths in the Gold Cup, so to be only beaten six and a bit exceeded expectations.

"He's got a reasonable weight and he's come out of Cheltenham flying. The betting says he has a leading chance and we've aimed at the race, we aren't running just so Paul has a chance of being champion trainer.

"It's a national institution so to be going there with a good chance is why you get involved in racing."

Definitly Red (12/1) is another leading fancy after he beat last year's National runner-up The Last Samurai (16/1) by 14 lengths at Doncaster soon after the weights were announced.

“Definitly Red is fine and is in great form," beamed trainer Brian Ellison. "He has done nothing wrong all season. He is 10lb well-in for the Grand National and if he takes to the fences we are very hopeful of a good run."

Trevor Hemmings enjoyed a third National success with Many Clouds in 2015 and, after losing that horse in January, he snapped up the Nicholls-trained Vicente (20/1).

"I’ve trained a number of winners for Trevor, who is an enthusiastic owner, loves the race and enjoys having a runner in it every year," said Nicholls.

“He liked the profile of Vicente, who won the Scottish Grand National last season, and is at his best in the spring.”

Rule The World gave Ireland a first triumph since 2007 when romping home 12 months ago and the Emerald Isle's best hope this time could be three-time Cheltenham Festival hero Cause Of Causes (14/1) for Gordon Elliott.

However, nothing can be ruled out, as the last decade has thrown up a 100/1 shock, a 66/1 upset, a trio of 33/1 winners and two more at 25/1.

Jim Beaumont and Douglas Pryde owned the 66/1 stunner Auroras Encore in 2013 and are back hunting more glory with Maggio (33/1), trained in Ireland by Patrick Griffin.

"Even four years on, it's hard to believe it happened," declared Pryde. "I'm still dining out on it now!"

Maggio won a supporting race on the National card 12 months ago and Beaumont added: "We're looking forward to going back to Aintree, there'll be a lot of excitement again.

"Last year, he was very impressive on the same day and if he'd got in the National he might have won it in that form - he was very impressive."