The Randox Health Grand National is always a hugely anticipated event on the racing calendar and betting markets for the four-mile event are available all year round. Whilst ante-post betting isn't for everyone, there are many punters who constantly monitor these markets as they seek value in this hugely competitive affair.
Blaklion has been installed as the favourite for this year's contest at Aintree following his fourth-place finish in the 2017 race but can the Nigel Twiston Davies trained runner justify its place at the head of the betting?
The Becher Chase at Aintree in early December regularly offers us a few clues ahead of the Grand National and Nigel Twiston-Davies could not have wished for a more dominant performance from his charge.
The eight-year-old was foot perfect in the race and stormed clear of the Last Samurai by an impressive nine-and-a-half lengths. It was the trainer's sixth win in the race and it prompted a surge in ante-post bets on the Grand National favourite; it was reported that 69% of all bets on the race the following day were on Blaklion.
As a result of that eye-catching performance, the price shortened significantly and he can be backed at 10/1 for the world-famous steeplechase with sportsbook Betway. Minella Rocco is next in the betting but is currently double the price.
The Charlie Hall Chase was Blaklion's only other commitment since the 2017 Grand National, where he secured a 2nd place finish at Wetherby behind the impressive stablemate Bristol de Mai.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has admitted he will 'keep his powder dry' and will give his Becher Chase hero a well-earned rest. The savvy trainer is waiting for the Grand National weights to be released before making a decision on whether to give him another run prior to April's energy-sapping contest. There has been some speculation about the possibility of sending the talented eight-year-old to the Cheltenham Festival with the Timico Gold Cup a potential target but the Gloucestershire based handler won't be drawn on the subject.
Whilst there are many exciting festivals such as Royal Ascot throughout the course of the year, nothing beats the thrill of 40 competitors thundering over iconic fences such as the Chair and the Canal Turn.
Blaklion was part of last year's talented line-up but could only finish fourth carrying a weight of 11-1. He has been risen eight pounds for the aforementioned success in the Becher Chase and backers will be hoping he is given a favourable weight to carry around the four-and-a-quarter miles. The three horses who finished in front: One for Arthur, Cause of Causes, and Saint Are were all carrying less. The only other participant inside the top 15 to be saddled with 11 stone or greater was Le Mercurey, who came home in 12th place.
The release of the weights are likely to provide a significant shift in the betting and Blaklion backers will be hoping the handicapper looks favourably on the market leader. It is possible to achieve success whilst carrying a large weight around the Merseyside track, with Many Clouds the last winner to clinch first place whilst saddled with an eye-watering 11-9 but this is far from an ideal situation.
Conditions will also play a part in determining the outcome of the race but Blaklion has proven effective on a variety of surfaces with victories on both good and heavy ground. The eight-year-old is considered a stayer and has tasted victory over three miles two furlongs but faded badly over the longer distance and that may be a concern for some potential backers.
As always, the Grand National is set to be a hugely competitive event and every punter is likely to have a different opinion on the iconic race, with Blaklion certain to face stiff competition from a number of rivals. He's already beaten The Last Samurai by a big enough margin to suggest a turning of the tables is unlikely but both Minella Rocco and Native River have achieved success over four miles at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and are likely to be strong contenders for this event, should they take part.
Cause of Causes is likely to line-up in the field once again and will be hoping to finish ahead of the Twiston-Davies charge once more whilst Total Recall, who bolted up in the Munster National, is likely to lead the Irish charge and is prominent in the betting.
Blaklion has plenty of competition but his all-conquering performance in the Becher Chase has helped cement his place as the favourite. The eight-year-old has shown versatility and desire and is certain to give punters a good run for their money in the marathon event but will be required to prove that he can go the distance and remain dominant around the historic course.