national 2011 /
Friend Proves Popular in National Ante-Post Market
Punters have been latching on to champion trainer Paul Nicholls' apparent new first-string John Smith's Grand National contender What A Friend who ran such a great race to very nearly deprive the great Kauto Star of third place in last week's thrilling Cheltenham Gold Cup, writes Elliot Slater.
Following the confirmation earlier this week that Daryl Jacob (who was on board at Cheltenham) will keep the ride at Aintree, the Alflora gelding has been the subject of steady support that has see his odds tumble from pre-Gold Cup levels of as big as 50/1 to a current general price of just 16/1, although some firms now go as short as 12s.
Having proved something of a disappointment earlier on this term when finishing a long way behind Imperial Commander in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, then being beaten at odds-on in the Grade 2 Aon Chase by stable companion Noland at Cheltenham last month, the first-time blinkers were applied to the eight-year-old in a bid to try and concentrate his mind and iron out the well documented quirks in the gelding's character.
With Jacob booked to take the ride on Sir Alex Ferguson's charge for the very first time and a cracking gallop set in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, What A Friend settled well before making steady headway from the rear of the field in the final mile and was coming home stronger than ever, finishing with a flourish up the Cheltenham hill and very nearly getting the better of Ruby Walsh and dual champion Kauto Star for third place in the historic race won by Nicky Henderson's Long Run. Anyone looking to place a horse racing bet would have been very impressed by his performance.
It seems the combination of the blinkers and his new jockey proved just the spur for Nicholls' frustratingly talented performer to put his best foot forward, and in the light of that effort he is technically 15lb well in for the Grand National. Jacob believes that What A Friend has everything required to win the Aintree marathon, and it would appear that a growing number of punters agree with him.