Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake puts forward a big-priced trend-busting fancy for the Grand National.

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A big-priced trend-busting fancy for the Grand National

The most exciting 10 minutes in sport is almost upon us as the Grand National looms large on the horizon.

With the inclement weather having deprived us of so much racing in recent days, most will be hoping that the rain dissipates in Liverpool and the ground won’t be too testing for the main event. However, one group that are likely to welcome every drop of rain are the connections of Irish-trained horses.

While Irish raiders have enjoyed unprecedented success at the Cheltenham Festival in recent times, this hasn’t been mirrored in the Grand National, with only two of the last 10 renewals having gone their way.

However, it is very interesting to note that the last two times the race was run on ground deemed to be soft by Timeform, not only did an Irish-trained horse come out on top, they filled three of the first four places in 2006 and five of the first six places in 2016.

While it remains to be seen just how soft the ground will be on the day, either way, my selection for the race is BAIE DES ILES (40/1 at the time of publication) who will represent the husband-and-wife trainer-jockey combination of Ross O’Sullivan and Katie Walsh.

Following a Cheltenham Festival where followers of trends analysis took a right hiding, if Baie Des Iles was to win the Grand National it might be enough to send such analysts into retirement!

Baie Des Iles will bid to become the first mare to win the race since 1951, the first seven-year-old to win it since 1940, only the fourth-ever grey to win it and her jockey Katie Walsh bids to become the first female to ride the winner of the great race. Talk about a trend buster!

Katie Walsh rides Seabass in the Grand National
Katie Walsh's (purple cap) experience over the National fences could prove pivotal

While Baie Des Iles may not fit the typical profile of a Grand National winner, she has plenty going for her. She is very race hardened for a seven-year-old having had plenty of experience over both hurdles and fences as early as her three-year-old days in France and has steadily progressed up the ranks since joining Ross O’Sullivan.

Indeed, she showed that her lack of years was no barrier to competing in top-class handicap chases when finishing a promising sixth in the Irish Grand National and a solid fifth to Native River in the Welsh Grand National, when just a five-year-old in 2016, being ridden with notable patience on both occasions.

A change to much more positive tactics yielded a lucrative reward in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last year, with her putting in a bold front-running display that saw her run out the authoritative winner.

While she was restricted to just one more run last season where she ran as if amiss in the Bobbyjo Chase, to an outsider looking in, it appears that her entire campaign this season has been aimed towards the Grand National.

Given a considerate reintroduction over hurdles at Navan in November, she ran a very eye-catching race under a patient ride over an inadequate trip in a handicap chase at Limerick’s Christmas meeting.

She returned to more positive tactics in her bid to win the Grand National Trial at Punchestown for the second year in succession in February, but with the race happening to fall on what was the last day that performances were taken into account for the Grand National weights, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if she wasn’t quite cherry ripe for it.

She shaped that way too, as having made most of the running she only gave best in between the last two fences, eventually finishing a solid third.

The form of that race has been working out encouragingly well, with the first two home Folsom Blue and Isleofhopendreams having gone very close off their revised marks in the Irish Grand National and the fourth Space Cadet having finished a close second in the Leinster National at Gowran Park.

Baie Des Iles will be partnered by Katie Walsh who has loads of experience in the Grand National having completed the course in four of her five attempts and going close to winning it when third on Seabass in 2012.

Trainer Ross O’Sullivan does not run a huge amount of horses on the track, but he has shown himself to be a more than capable handler in recent years. While he may not have any experience of preparing a horse for the Grand National, one can be sure that his in-laws Ted and Ruby Walsh will have been more than willing to advise him on the intricacies involved in winning the race! With a bit of luck, she looks to have the credentials to run a big race.

Whatever transpires in the finish of the Grand National, the sport of horse racing will be united in hoping that it is a clean race from which all the runners and riders come home safe and sound.

Kevin Blake
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