JONJO O’Neill believes ante-post favourite Shutthefrontdoor has been allotted a “fair weight” for this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree.
Last season’s Irish Grand National hero appears a likely last ride for 19-times champion jockey Tony McCoy in the world famous race, in which he is set to shoulder 11st 2lb in the initial handicap.
“It is probably a fair weight he has been given. We would like a bit less but that is what he has got to carry,” said O’Neill.
“He is a much better horse on flatter tracks and he likes good ground. I think everything will suit him.
“He was all out to win the Irish National, but he was well weighted that day.
“I don’t think the trip will be a problem as he is a galloper. He maybe just lacks a bit of class to win a Gold Cup, but he will be OK in the National.”
The JP McManus-owned gelding, who is currently a best-priced 12-1 to win the four-mile-three-and-a-half furlong race, has not been seen since winning a graduation chase at Carlisle back in November but O’Neill reports the eight-year-old to be in fine form as he begins his build-up to the April 11 race.
“He had a few little problems but nothing serious. He is in good form, we are happy with him and everything seems to be going the right way,” said O’Neill.
“He is entered in a handicap chase at Cheltenham and he may go there, but we’re not sure yet. If he doesn’t go there, he will go straight to Aintree.”
Shutthefrontdoor is one of four entries in the race for O’Neill along with 2012 runner-up Sunnyhillboy (10st 8lb), Burton Port (10st 5lb) and Merry King (10st 5lb).
“Sunnyhillboy didn’t run great on Saturday (when unplaced in a hurdle at Haydock) and I think he is beginning to start to feel it, while both Merry King and Burton Port have fantastic racing weights,” said the trainer.
“Merry King ran a blinder in the Hennessy when finishing third behind Many Clouds. He loves good ground, jumps and stays well and he is a live contender for me.
“It depends what mood Burton Port is in. He goes to Doncaster tomorrow and if he puts in a good show, he will go there.”
O’Neill is not the only trainer to make multiple entries with current champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who won the race with Neptune Collonges in 2012, having seven possibles among the 96 contenders.
Sam Winner (11st 8lb) has been allotted the highest weight of the Ditcheat runners, followed by Unioniste (11st 6lb), Rocky Creek (11st 3lb), Rolling Aces (11st 3lb), Rebel Rebellion (10st 12lb), Mon Parrain (10st 11lb) and Benvolio (10st 8lb).
“I have always believed Unioniste might be a Grand National horse and Ruby Walsh said he would be my next real Aintree contender,” said Nicholls.
“He is a real galloper but he lacks the pace to be competitive in the Gold Cup. (In the Denman Chase) at Newbury, he got outpaced but stayed on very strongly.
“I think Rocky Creek, who finished fifth last year, had a great run at Down Royal and you can put a line through his Hennessy run.
“He is in really good order and he could be a big contender.
“Sam Winner ran well in the Lexus Chase and has not run since. He stays forever and he could be an interesting horse if he runs well in the Gold Cup.”
Pineau De Re will bid to become the first horse since Red Rum to secure back-to-back wins in the race.
If the Dr Richard Newland trained 12-year-old is to complete the feat, he will have to do so from an 8lb higher mark after being given 11st for this year’s race.
“Last year we were hopeful he would run well, but as he fell in the Becher Chase, you could not be optimistic,” said Newland, who also has Royale Knight (10st 2lb) entered in the race.
“To try to win back-to-back runnings is a impossibly difficult challenge, but the plan is to give him another shot.
“He will run at Cheltenham in the Pertemps Final. He is in good form, although realistically it will be difficult to win that race.
“Hopefully he will run well and then it will be on to Aintree.”
Philip Hobbs has four entered in the race, including last year’s runner-up Balthazar King, who has been handed a 3lb rise on last year’s weight to carry 11st 2lb.
His others are Chance Du Roy (10st 4lb), Gas Line Boy (10st 4lb) and Duke of Lucca (10st 2lb).
“Balthazar King is in very good form and Philip wants to keep him fresh for the race so he won’t be running at Cheltenham, instead we are going to leave him and wait,” said the trainer’s wife, Sarah.
“Gas Line Boy jumped so badly on Saturday there is no point running him.
“Chance Du Roy is in very good form and has a nice weight so we will run him.
“Duke of Lucca is in the Cross Country race at Cheltenham and if he runs well in that, he will go for the National.”
As for the four Yorkshire runners, Keith Reveley’s Night In Milan is the only horse likely to make the cut after the Doncaster course specialist was given 10st 9lb.
The Sue Smith pair of Vintage Star and Lackamon are 80th and 90th in the handicap respectively, with virtually no chance of making the 40-runner cut, while David O’Meara’s Rose Of The Moon is 93rd.
However it was the prospect of Tony McCoy retiring in a blaze of glory with victory in the Crabbie’s Grand National was at the forefront of bookmakers’ minds when they priced up the market.
Bookmakers have long memories and McCoy’s triumph on Don’t Push It for his boss JP McManus and trainer Jonjo O’Neill in 2010 cost them a substantial sum.
It was McCoy’s first and only success at the 15th attempt and this is set to be his final crack at the National before he retires from the saddle.
Shutthefrontdoor, representing the same combination, won last year’s Irish Grand National and was successful in his only run of the season at Carlisle in November.
Given 11st 2lb for Aintree, Shutthefrontdoor is 12-1 with Aintree’s official betting partner Betfred and Ladbrokes, although he is just one of six possible McManus runners.
“The Grand National never fails to top the turnover charts and this year’s renewal could be a record-breaker with Tony McCoy due to take his final ride in the race,” said Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths.
“Whatever he rides is sure to go off favourite and the plunge has already begun on Shutthefrontdoor, who has halved in price since the entries were revealed.”
Pineau de Re is 25-1 with Betfred to repeat last year’s triumph after being allotted 11st while runner-up Balthazar King, who has 11st 2lb, is 20-1.
Betfair offer the same price for Shutthefrontdoor and expect it to be popular with punters.
“The industry is already running for cover from a fairytale ending to AP McCoy’s career on Shutthefrontdoor, but we are happy to offer a top price of 12-1 for the dream to come true and AP ride a Grand National winner in his last season,” said Betfair’s Barry Orr.
William Hill are taking no chances, quoting Shutthefrontdoor at 10-1.
“AP McCoy will be looking to go out on a high and what better way to sign off than a win in the world’s biggest race,” said their spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke.
“The Grand National has been a real boost for the bookies recently with 25-1, 66-1 and 33-1 winners over the last three years and we hope to cheer on another big-priced winner past the post at Aintree.”
BetVictor also go 10-1 Shutthefrontdoor, but believe the horse could be as short as half those odds on the day.
“Owner JP McManus could have as many as six runners in the race but punters were of the opinion that Shutthefrontdoor was the one when the entries were announced and if AP is booked to ride the former Irish National winner, one would imagine he will go off around the 5-1 mark on the day,” said their spokesman Charlie McCann.
“We would expect McCoy to retire on the spot if he rode a second National winner at Aintree in April and Shutthefrontdoor would be a nightmare result for the books if he gave the 19-times champion Jockey a second and final National success.”
Keith Reveley - Night In Milan (10st 9lb)
“Perfect. As long as one of the top ones stay in we’ll stay below 11st and that was the sort of weight I was thinking of, which means James (Reveley) can ride him at a comfortable weight.
“He’s in great form at the moment, he’ll go for the Grimthorpe a week on Saturday and that gives him a month to recover which is just what he likes between his races.
“Even at nine he could still be improving and while he’s not that well handicapped we know he is capable of competing off his mark.
“It’s all about having a go, the owner is keen and the game is all about races likes this.”
Jim Culloty - Lord Windermere (11st 10lb) and Spring Heeled (10st 12lb)
“We have really trained Spring Heeled for the National. He stayed on extremely well in the Bet365 at Sandown (last year) to be fifth when it looked like he might be tailed off.
“He jumps well but what he does not want is soft ground as you could write him off.
“He will run on Saturday at Fairyhouse as it looks the softer option and obvious place to go. If he runs OK, we will probably send him straight to Aintree.
“He is a bit of a worrier and you can’t run him very often, but his participation hinges on the the ground.
“Lord Windermere is Gold Cup bound and I have been very happy with him and his run the other day.”
Karen McLintock - Carlito Brigante (10st 10lb)
“I’m quite happy with that. I was hoping he’d be under 11st so that’s nice.
“We are focusing on running him in the National. He’ll have one run before then, probably at either Doncaster (in the Grimthorpe Chase) or Kelso (a two-mile seven Listed race) at the end of February.
“He’ll have time to recuperate from a race then before the National. He likes the good ground and seems happy in himself. He comes off a break well.”
Alan King - Godsmejudge (10st 8lb)
“It’s what we expected. He is well and I’m working backwards from the National. He’s in at Kempton (in the BetBright Chase). He might go there. He wants two more runs before the National, so he could easily go on Saturday if we’re happy.
“He’s only had the one run this season. If we can get a run into him in the next few days or the next week or so you’ll only need one more and then he’ll be go there ready.”
Fergal O’Brien - Alvarado (10st 3lb)
“Alvarado had a hard race last year and the Ruckers (Angela and William, owners) decided to give him a big break.We were hoping to run him a bit sooner at Cheltenham trials day but he got a little back injury hopefully we have put that right.
“He runs tomorrow at Doncaster and the main thing is he gets round in one piece then it is off to Aintree. He was my first runner in the race last year and it was a big association to be placed. It was a fantastic day and he did us proud.”
Michael Scudamore - Monbeg Dude (10st 7lb)
“He has been a lot busier than most horses running in the Hennessy, Welsh National and at Haydock on Saturday. Haydock is not his track but it is another box ticked and we can move forward now .
“He is entered in a couple of handicaps at Cheltenham. He has come out of Haydock well and it could well be that he does Cheltenham and Aintree.
“Paul Carberry thought he was a bit fresh in the National last year and that is something we will look at this year.”
Warren Greatrex - Dolatuo (10st 7lb)
“Dolatulo is a great horse with an excellent weight who won well at Wetherby. He ran over the fences in the Grand Sefton and made a blunder when he was third. Denis (O’Regan) thought the trip was just too short but he was pleased how he handled the fences.
“I have looked after him a bit this year as last year he ran pretty much every other week. He jumps very well and stays well and this could be just the race for him.”
Nicky Henderson - Hadrian’s Approach (11st) and Rajdhani Express (11st 4lb)
“At the end of last year when Hadrian’s Approach won the Bet365 at Sandown there was no way we were going to look at the National with the jumping technique he had. For some reason, straight away this season his whole technique changed and he looked very professional and accurate. He is definitely ground dependant as he loves really soft ground.
“Rajdhani Express has not qualified yet and needs to finish in the top four at Kempton on Saturday. I think the Topham would be realistic but Sam and Robert (Waley-Cohen) are quite keen on going this route.”
Emma Lavelle - Court By Surprise (10st 3lb)
“Court By Surprise always looked like a nice horse at home then he went and struck into himself at Warwick. I was delighted with his win at Exeter then he controversially won the Badger Beer Chase at Wincanton.
“He has not put a foot wrong really. He is a horse that runs best fresh so he has been on holiday in the field to try to convince him it is the summer. There is a chance he might go to Newbury on February 28, but we would have no issues going straight to Aintree with him. “
Patrick Mullins - Back In Focus (10st 13lb)
“I would say that Back In Focus is our main hope. He won the four-mile chase at Cheltenham the other year and he stays very well.
“He missed last season through injury and he ran well at the weekend before he got tired. Hopefully we will get another run into him, but everything about the race should suit him and hopefully we can keep him sound until then.
“I would say he is the most likely ride of Ruby Walsh.”
John Kiely - Carlingford Lough (11st 10lb)
“That’s interesting. The owner (JP McManus) and Frank Berry (his racing manager) will decide but I don’t think it would be likely he’d run. The Gold Cup is his main aim and the horse is in good form.”
Oliver Sherwood - Many Clouds (11st 9lb)
“I haven’t had a runner in the National for ages, but 11st 9lb seems fair enough. Whether he’s going to run will depend on Cheltenham. I think it will be unlikely unless something happens in the Gold Cup.
“On ratings I thought Many Clouds was the highest-rated horse, so I don’t know why he’s got 1lb less than the top weight (Carlingford Lough).”
Mouse Morris - First Lieutenant ( 11st 3lb)
“He’s only put us up 1lb but those above us seem to be better off, if they run.
“I think he’s a real National horse, so he’ll definitely go. He’s such a good jumper.”
Robbie Hennessy - Rubi Light (10st 9lb)
“I couldn’t say what the exact plan is at this moment, he could go to Thurles next week and then for a handicap at Cheltenham.
“He’ll have an entry in the Topham and we’ll make our minds up nearer the time. You never know if they are going to stay that far until you try.
“We’ve freshened him up and he lives outside now, he’s never in a stable, and that seems to suit him. I was happy with him the last day and while he’s not as good as he was, he was in no-man’s land for a while with his rating but he has a chance again now.”
Robert Waley-Cohen - Oscar Time (10st 5lb)
“Obviously Oscar Time at the age of 14 will enjoy having as little weight as possible. He runs in the veterans’ chase at Doncaster on Wednesday and that is the only run he’s going to have between now and the National.
“He hasn’t had a run since the Becher Chase. The intention is just to keep him mentally and physically sharp. He’s in very good form.”
Neil Mulholland - The Druids Nephew (10st 9lb)
“I’d be very happy with that. It’s a nice weight and he’s got a month to recover after Cheltenham, so he’ll probably run.
“He’ll go for the three-mile handicap on the Tuesday and he’s in real good order, he might even be stronger.
“He’s unexposed at staying trips, he ran a cracker at Cheltenham behind Sam Winner and then the Hennessy came too soon.”
Peter Bowen - Al Co (10st 8lb)
“That looks OK. He’ll definitely run, it’s what we have trained him for all year.
“I’ll probably give him one run beforehand, possibly over hurdles.
“He should get the trip as he’s won a Scottish National, and he had a spin over the fences in the Becher and he seemed to take to them, the ground was just too soft.
“All we need is for it to dry up and he should run well.”
Henry de Bromhead - Home Farm (11st 2lb)
“It sounds a nice weight. He seems good at the moment. We’ve just given him the entry at this stage.”
Tom George - Saint Are (10st 6lb)
“Saint Are is a very good horse that lost his way and I don’t know what happened over the summer, but so far what we have seen has been good and it has all gone to plan. He seems to have that sparkle back.
“Catterick would not have been his favourite track and he needed to win like he did (last Monday) to get in.
“He has won twice around Aintree before and he has run well in the Becher Chase, so I don’t think the extra distance will be a problem.”