The Front Runner

Can we achieve a wildly unlikely Grand National hat-trick?

Latenightpass: can we achieve a Grand National hat-trick?
Latenightpass: can we achieve a Grand National hat-trick?

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Here's a Grand National puzzle for you: what do you do with Hewick at the top of the weights for this year's race? I don't think there's any avoiding the fact that the little horse is going to carry top weight if he turns up for this year's Randox-sponsored event, but how much more should he have to carry than Noble Yeats?

That's a question that will be answered next week when the weights will be published for this year's National. The great race is still two months away, on April 13, but a long-established tradition dictates that the weights are fixed in mid-February and there will be no penalties to carry, whatever happens after that, not even if one of the entrants should happen to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Rather than wait for official publication, I always like to have a go at predicting what the weights will be. My attempt last year was wrong-footed by, among other things, the fact that topweight has been raised once more to 11st 12lb, having been 2lb lower than that for many years. 

Bearing in mind that there's a 4lb allowance for jockeys, Hewick will actually be carrying 12st 2lb if he lines up in the National, a huge burden for a small horse. It's one thing to carry it in a race like the King George, in which your handful of rivals all have the same burden, but quite another to do it in a National, against dozens of horses carrying less weight.

I'd be surprised if Hewick turns up, even though the National has been mentioned as a target. His need for good ground is in conflict with the Jockey Club's determination to run the famous race on ground with some give. The squelchier it gets, the more that weight will matter. Plus, Hewick's said to be going for the Gold Cup first and is likely to have a hard race. 

Anyway, he's in the National for the time being and I reckon the official assessor might have him on a rating of 171, which would be a conservative response to his King George win. It's strong form, with Shishkin and Allaho both winning since, but I think we have to take into account that he looked outclassed most of the way and only made headway as the others tired. He was well beaten in the Galway Plate from a rating of 167 on his previous start.

Hewick: will the King George hero run in the Grand National?
Hewick: will the King George hero run in the Grand National? Credit: Caroline Norris (

Putting him on 171 means he'll be giving 5lb to everything else in the National and I think the handicapper will be reluctant to create a bigger gap than that at the top of the weights. We no longer appear to be following the old policy of compressing the top end of the handicap but, even so, 171 seems to me to set a sufficiently serious task for Hewick.

Here's my rough and ready assessment of how the weights may look:

11-12 Hewick
11-7 Noble Yeats
11-5 Conflated
11-3 Capodanno, Coko Beach
11-2 Nassalam
11-1 I Am Maximus, Janidil, Minella Indo
11st Corach Rambler, Delta Work, Fakir D'Oudairies
10-13 Ash Tree Meadow
10-12 Galvin
10-10 Ain't That A Shame, Asterion Forlonge, Farouk D'Alene, Mahler Mission, Stattler
10-9 Fury Road
10-8 Bronn, Classic Getaway, Eldorado Allen, Foxy Jacks
10-7 Letsbeclearaboutit, Salvador Ziggy, Threeunderthrufive, Vanillier
10-6 James Du Berlais, Le Milos
10-5 Dusart, Favori De Champdou, Limerick Lace, Minella Crooner
10-4 Latenightpass
10-3 Longhouse Poet, Mac Tottie, Run Wild Fred
10-2 Chambard, Chemical Energy, Meetingofthewaters, Monbeg Genius, The Goffer
10-1 Adamantly Chosen, Galia Des Liteaux, Kitty's Light
10-0 Eklat De Rire, Embittered, Gevrey, Glengouly, Highland Hunter, Mr Incredible, Panda Boy, Roi Mage, Samcro
9-13 Busselton, Fakir D'Alene, Fantastic Lady, Fiddlerontheroof, Kinondo Kwetu, Shakem Up'arry
9-12 Malina Girl, Ontheropes
9-11 Amirite, Angels Dawn, Annual Invictus, Cepage, Diol Ker, Empire Steel, Its On The Line, Sail Away
9-10 Macs Charm
9-9 Battleoverdoyen, Celebre D'Allen, Desertmore House, Dunboyne, Iron Bridge, Mister Coffey, Revels Hill, Riaan

That's every horse rated 140 or higher. There were a few entrants rated below that, including Good Boy Bobby, but I just can't see them making the cut, now that the field size has been reduced to 34.

At the moment, the cutoff comes right after those horses I've put on 10st 5lb. Last year, the horse who carried No.34 was Eva's Oskar, who had been joint-57th on the list at the time the weights were published. That suggests the horses I've got on 9st 13lb have a fair chance of sneaking into the race while those below will need more withdrawals than last year.

My top 34 contains just six horses trained in Britain: Nassalam, Corach Rambler, Eldorado Allen, Threeunderthrufive, Le Milos and Dusart. Compare that with ten of my top 34 who are trained by Gordon Elliott: Conflated, Coko Beach, Delta Work, Ash Tree Meadow, Galvin, Farouk D'Alene, Fury Road, Salvador Ziggy, Favori De Champdou and Minella Crooner.

That just shows what the Brits, taken collectively, are up against. But there are a few other interesting ones who will probably make the cut if they stay healthy, like Latenightpass, Monbeg Genius and Kitty's Light.

Anyway, hopefully the sight of these weights prompt a few thoughts and inclinations because I think this is quite a good time to get involved in the National betting. At 14-1 the field, the market has the inviting look of freshly fallen snow. Once the weights are published next week and all the tipsters have put up different horses, the most interesting ones will shorten up and it'll look a thoroughly trampled mess. 

Of course, I have to give you my own idea of where the value may lie. And I will. But I'm just a tiny bit gun-shy about doing so.

Corach Rambler: winner of last year's race
Corach Rambler: winner of last year's raceCredit: Grossick Racing

That's because I've done this for the last couple of years and have racked up quite a remarkable record, thanks to Enjoy D'Allen (2022) and Cloudy Glen (2023). No, they didn't win, thank you for noticing. What they have in common is that they both unseated at the very first fence.

What skill, eh? It's not everyone who can pick a horse two months in advance to turn up for a specific race and then exit at the first opportunity. 

Doubtless you have your own achievements in ante-post betting, the mere memory of which gives you a glow on a cold winter night, but I should think very few people have managed two of those in a row. How do you rate my chances of doing it for a third consecutive year?

Anyway, the black spot has been conferred upon Latenightpass. He's getting on a bit at the age of 11 but he ran a career best when last seen, winning round Cheltenham's cross-country course in December. 

He's up to a rating of 149 now, which will get him a run if Dan Skelton and other connections decide to go this way. I'm assuming he'll take his chance first in the cross-country race at the festival, which gives him more than four weeks to recover.

He's been in the Aintree Foxhunters for the last three years, producing form figures of 214. In so doing, he's cleared 54 of those green fences, exactly the kind of horse I need on my side in the circumstances. 

I think the last Foxhunters winner to follow up in the National was Grittar but few have tried. Forest Gunner ran a game fifth. Eons ago, we made Double Silk a 6-1 shot and perhaps that would have been a big price if he hadn't jumped just a bit too boldly for his own good.

Anyway, Latenightpass is 33-1 with some firms offering a quarter the odds for four places and there must be worse bets out there somewhere. Obviously, you'll have to keep your fingers crossed when they reach the first.

Read these next:

What's on this week: Cheltenham fields become clearer, Grand National trials and L'Homme Presse tackles the Ascot Chase  

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The Front Runner is our unmissable email newsletter available exclusively to Members' Club Ultimate subscribers. Chris Cook, the reigning Racing Writer of the Year, provides his take on the day's biggest stories and tips for the upcoming racing every morning from Monday to Friday. Not a Members' Club Ultimate subscriber? Click here to join today and also receive our Ultimate Daily emails plus our full range of fantastic website and newspaper content.

Chris CookRacing Writer of the Year

Published on 12 February 2024inThe Front Runner

Last updated 10:00, 12 February 2024