If the Melbourne Cup is the race that stops Australia then the Grand National is the United Kingdom’s equivalent and, like the Flemington flat race, the Aintree steeplechase event has increased in class over the last few years.
Once the domain of dour stayers and course specialists who could handle the unique challenge of negotiating Aintree’s fences, the Grand National has gone up in grade ever since officials reduced the famous obstacles to make them safer.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Grand National is a decent race on which to have a punt because there is a lot of mug money bet on the event and, realistically, one can put a line through half of the runners that make up the field.
Rocky Creek appeals as the pick of the Grand National odds at 21.00 with Coral. Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to train a Grand National winner – he saddled Neptune Collonges to win the race two years ago – and he has a strong hand in this year’s event with Rocky Creek one of his three runners.
Lightly raced Rocky Creek has three firsts, three seconds and one third to show for his seven steeplechase starts so never has he been off the podium. Having had so few races, Rocky Creek is probably ahead of the handicapper, which is vital because the Grand National is run under handicap conditions. And the form of Rocky Creek’s two runs this season looks very good five months and three months on.
Rocky Creek was a two-and-three-quarter-length second to another Grand National contender, Triolo D’Alene, over two miles and three furlongs in November. Rocky Creek meets Triolo D’Alene five pounds better at the weights in the Grand National, plus the former is open to a greater level of improvement than the latter. And Rocky’s Creek last run prior to the Grand National was a seven-length second to The Giant Bolster over two miles and two furlongs in January when the former was giving five pounds to the latter. The Giant Bolster franked that form when finishing a close bronze medallist in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month.
It would seem that Nicholls has had the Grand National in mind for Rocky Creek for quite some time and, while there is no such thing as a certainty in a 40-runner race over some of the toughest fences in jumps racing, there is little doubt that Rocky Creek is a very serious contender.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and two-time King George VI Chase champion Long Run will have his Grand National supporter and the handicapper does appear to have given a chance to the nine-year-old but Rocky Creek is the pick of the Nicholls team, with the greatest threat likely to be Teaforthree.
Teaforthree has been the Grand National favourite for quite some time and, barring a late flurry of public support for Monbeg Dude, who is the media story of the race because of the fame of his connections, last year’s third-place finisher should start as the shortest-priced runner.
The difference in the Grand National weights between Rocky Creek and Teaforthree is seven pounds in favour of the latter, who has run twice since the handicapper published his scale a few months ago. Teaforthree was second to Restless Harry in an Ascot handicap before not having the class to feature prominently in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Grand National experience is worth its weight in gold but, on a line through The Giant Bolster, Rocky Creek is very well treated compared to Teaforthree. Quite why there is such a huge difference in the odds of Rocky Creek and Teaforthree is puzzling so simply back Rocky Creek.
Remember to check out the various each-way terms that are available on the Grand National as bookmakers, especially those with big British client bases, compete for business.
At odds of 21.00, there is nothing wrong with backing Rocky Creek each way, particularly in view of his record of always placing first, second or third over the large obstacles.