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McManus holds the National key

 Apr 7 2017


Despite modifications to the unique fences, the Grand National remains one of sports great spectacles and just as tough a betting puzzle to solve but legendary gambler and owner J P McManus could be the key to finding this year's winner.

With More Of That, Cause Of Causes and Regal Encore all sporting his silks McManus is neither short on numbers nor quality.

More Of That is the pick with the drying ground unlikely to prove a hindrance to the nine-year-old. The 2014 World Hurdle winner was rated 169 over the smaller obstacles but is rated 12lbs lower over fences. It's fair to say he hasn't fulfilled his promise and undoubted potential but his last two runs have suggested that a major prize may be around the corner.

None come bigger than the Grand National and More Of That looked in need of a step up to this marathon trip (4m2.5f) when a staying on sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind the brilliant Sizing John. The latter had previously won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown but had More Of That not unseated at the last the result would have been in some doubt. That was a hugely eye-catching run despite the mistake and this lightly-raced gelding does look well handicapped.

Cause Of Causes was a never-nearer eighth behind Many Clouds in the 2015 renewal and while he never really figured there he did at least demonstrate that he has stamina in abundance. Brilliantly trained by Gordon Elliott, Cause Of Causes heads here off the back of a remarkable third Festival success having added the Glenfarclas Chase to the 2016 Kim Muir and the 2015 National Hunt Chase. This is tougher again for the nine-year-old but he does get to race off a four pound lower mark than in 2015 and is 13lbs lower than his career-high mark.

Regal Encore's Ascot win in December showed he retains ability but worryingly after being pulled up at Cheltenham on his latest run that made it six times from his last eight starts that the nine-year-old has failed to complete and looks the most unlikely of the trio.

It's a typically fascinating renewal and two others amongst many worth a mention are Definitly Red and The Last Samuri who finished one-two in what looked the key prep-race at Doncaster last month.

Brian Ellison's Definitly Red was a hugely impressive winner and with a progressive and lightly-raced profile deserves to be sent off favourite. If there is to be a negative it is the drying ground with all his best form coming with cut.

Kim Bailey's The Last Samuri was runner-up in last year's National when taking advantage of a low handicap mark. He is now racing off a 12lbs higher mark so certainly doesn't jump off the page as being well handicapped. However he's battle hardened and a safe jumper who seems undaunted by these fences. He was third over them behind Vieux Lion Rouge (also prominent in the National betting) in the Becher two runs back and looks certain to run another bold race.

In contrast to The Last Samuri's handicap mark one who is very well in at the weights is the Paul Nicholls-trained Saphir Du Rheu. The eight-year-old was a Grade 1 novice winner at Aintree two years ago but is racing off a seven pounds lower mark nowadays. He's run into some nice form and ran a really good fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last start and is due to go up six pounds in the future. The distance and fences are obviously question marks but he's undoubtedly well handicapped.

Watch the Grand National live on Sky Racing 1 on Saturday night.

Richard Wade - Sky Racing

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