Grand National Festival: Simon Rowlands shares his tips as Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore bid for repeat win

Top tipster Simon Rowlands has four selections to consider for day three of the Grand National Festival at Aintree.

It can seem like the height of optimism to try to predict the winner of the Grand National, but if you hang around for long enough you are very likely to do it.

I have managed it several times – the problem is that the most recent one was in the last century now! To give myself a better chance, I am siding with a couple this time round.

The claims of Any Second Now are there for all to see. He finished third to Minella Times 12 months ago despite being badly hampered mid-race, is significantly better off with that rival (who is now top-weight) and on reasonable terms with those who finished behind him.

He also advertised his well-being when getting up on the line to beat Escaria Ten in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last time, and looks the likelier of the pair to find more for this test. Any Second Now has been here, done that, and he is now back to claim the t-shirt.

A more speculative one is lowly weighted Fortescue, one of a handful who got in after late defections.

Hugh Nugent and Fortescue going on to land the Swinley Listed Handicap Chase at Ascot

On his latest start, Fortescue ran down Fiddlerontheroof late on at three miles at Ascot, and the weight differential is the same here. You might expect the pair to be trading at similar odds, also, but Fortescue is roughly double the price of Fiddlerontheroof.

The Grand National is not a race to get heavily involved in, but neither is it the lottery it is still sometimes portrayed as being, and it is a safer race since significant modifications to the fences nearly a decade ago. Let us hope for an injury-free race and a good spectacle.

There is some good racing on the undercard at Aintree on Grand National Day, as usual, including an intriguing Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at 2:25.

Stage Star and Harry Cobden jump the last to land the Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury for Paul Nicholls
Stage Star and Harry Cobden jump the last to land the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury for Paul Nicholls

Three Stripe Life has the best form, and is favourite, but not by much, and there are two or three you could fancy to give him a race if at their best, including Stage Star, who looked destined for big things when winning the Challow Hurdle at Newbury with ease.

But he fluffed his lines in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which he was third-favourite behind Sir Gerhard but ran no sort of race on the day of the deluge.

Ground conditions promise to be very different now, with the times at Aintree much quicker on Friday than they had been on Thursday.

I cannot reasonably explain why Stage Star ran so abjectly and trainer Paul Nicholls would be very unlikely to be turning him out here if there was anything wrong with him.

If you ignore Stage Star’s last run then he should be about half the price he is now, with every chance of getting in the mix, and I am prepared to be forgiving in the circumstances.

Around two and a half miles suited him nicely at Newbury and he was an impressive winner on good ground earlier in his career.

Shan Blue running at Wetherby
Shan Blue running at Wetherby back in October

Shan Blue may appear as if he is short enough at around 5/2 in a field of 18 for the Betway Handicap Chase at 4:15, but he deserves to be still shorter if you ask me.

He is probably the best-handicapped jumper in training off a mark of 148 if you consider that he was going to beat 152-rated Fusil Raffles and 149-rated Kitty’s Light easily in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October, only to fall at the third-last.

He has been seen out only once since, when shaping a lot better than suggested by his sixth to the mighty Allaho at Cheltenham, and a sharpish three miles is just the ticket.

This is Shan Blue’s race to lose, and there is still enough juice in his odds to support him to get the job done.

Simon Rowlands’ selections

Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (2.25) – STAGE STAR (1pt win)

Betway Handicap Chase (4.45) – SHAN BLUE (2pts win)

Randox Grand National (5.15) – ANY SECOND NOW (1pt win), FORTESCUE (0.5pt win)

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