This quartet could post an upset in the Grand National Steeplechase

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April 9th, 2016

The most watched and wagered horse race in the world Saturday will not be any of the three major Kentucky Derby preps (G1), but the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree in Liverpool, England. Scheduled for 12:15 p.m. (EDT), I'm going to take my annual stab at the 4 1/2-mile spectacle before the great racing action at Aqueduct, Keeneland, and Santa Anita kicks off.

Not being a close follower of the National Hunt scene, I play this particular race more for fun and action. Sometimes, luck shines on me. In this space last year, I went over my handicapping methods and revealed four horses among the 23 individual betting interests that I would be focusing my play on. One of them happened to be eventual winner, Many Clouds, who won at odds of 20-1 in the U.K. (I don't quite remember his price in the U.S. pools, 25-1 perhaps?). I also had a few quid on longshot 2012 winner Neptune Collonges, so I've done all right betting the National in recent years.

Many Clouds is back to defend his title, and many observers believe he has an excellent chance to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum, more than 40 years ago, to win back-to-back Nationals. Many Clouds is listed at 7-1 in the morning line on the U.S. pool. However, Many Clouds has 39 horses to beat.

Limitations in American tote technology require that the 17 lowest-weighted horses in the field of 40, beginning with #24, are coupled in a mutuel field for U.S. bettors. Seventeen for the price one is an enticing prospect in theory, but the price must be worth it. Within the last few years, a member of the field won and only after the fact did I notice that post-time odds were 6-1. If the price is close to that Saturday, I'll be sure to get a piece of it even though I'll be spreading elsewhere.

Many Clouds could very well pull off the repeat, but there's got to be a reason why no horse has been able to repeat in more than four decades. I suppose I'll kick myself if he prevails at 7-1 or higher, but I'll be using most of my budgeted funds to back this quartet:

#4 Wonderful Charm (30-1) might have some stamina and class issues, but did run well here in a listed 3 1/8-mile chase at last year's Grand National meeting and I like horses that have done well over this challenging course.

#9 The Druids Nephew (15-1) was one of the horses I backed last year and he was going well when he fell four fences from home. I figure he'll go off at a longer price than the 10-1 on offer last year and will back him again after a decent Doncaster prep.

#14 Shutthefrontdoor (15-1) is another who will be a much better price than a year ago, when he was the 6-1 favorite as the final Grand National mount of legendary jumps jockey Tony McCoy, who was heading into retirement. With all the sentimental money on his side, he was an obvious underlay. However, he didn't fare badly when fifth and should offer more value this time around.

#19 Morning Assembly (20-1) is relatively young at the age of nine and has compiled a solid 14-5-4-3 mark. Considered one of the better novice jumpers in Britain a couple years back, he's run well since returning in January from a long spell and might surprise.

I figure I'll put an even amount on the above four for $6-$8 and take a wait-and-see approach on putting some saver money on Many Clouds and the mutuel field.