The Grand National is part of the fabric of this country’s sporting heritage and the nation is preparing to pick their favourites ahead of the world’s greatest steeplechase.
It rarely fails to serve up thrills and spills alongside triumph and tragedy as one of the greatest sporting spectacles on the planet.
Who can forget Red Rum’s unmatched historic third win in 1977 ten years after the unfancied 100-1 shot Foinavon was the only horse to get over the 23rd fence after a melee, going on to win?
In 1981 there was the heartwarming tale of both horse and jockey, Aldaniti and Bob Champion, recovering from illnesses to win the race.
Finding the winner of the National has been a tricky affair since the appropriately named Lottery won the first race back in 1839. Captain Martin Becher was unseated from his mount Conrad, when leading at the sixth fence on the first circuit and the fence, which is also the 22nd obstacle these days, became known as Becher’s Brook. So exceptional were Red Rum’s achievements that many have long considered his Aintree record would remain untouched forever and 42 years later no horse has even won twice.
But that could change at 5.15 tomorrow (Saturday) as TIGER ROLL must have the best chance of following up of any Grand National winner during the intervening years.
Jockey Davy Russell is again wearing the maroon and white silks of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud racing operation, but for once a year punters last year’s hero, who runs off a 9lb higher mark, will probably be a turn off at 7/2 favourite which is the shortest price since Red Rum in 1975.
Value hunters and each-way backers have plenty of alternative options especially those with form over at least three and a half miles.
RATHVINDEN has been laid out for this race, loves a stamina test and will be at home over the 4m2 ? slog. He won his only start this season at Fairyhouse and that was after the National weights were published so he’s 5lb well in and has Ruby Walsh up top.
BALLYOPTIC came within a nose of winning last season’s Scottish National and could be strongly fancied if at his best but fell over these fences in December’s Beecher Chase and will need to be handy throughout.
Nicky Henderson has failed to break his National hoodoo with better chances than the horribly handicapped VALTOR, and the unfortunately for ROCK THE KASBAH the same can be said for Richard Johnson.
STEP BACK stays well but isn’t running well, however connections have had half an eye on Aintree all season and dropping 2lbs for his last run when sixth at Warwick won’t harm.
It’s not a big punting race for me but I will be having a couple of quid each way on Welsh Grand National runner-up RAMSES DE TEILLEE. At seven years old age is not in his favour as its 78 years since a horse under eight won, but this progressive young chaser is trained by David Pipe who knows what it takes to win around Aintree having saddled Comply Or Die in 2008.
With 17 of the 40 runners trained by Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott it would be no surprise if the winner once again came from across the Irish Sea. DOUNIKOS and NOBLE ENDEAVOUR are strong contenders for Elliott but I feel his best hopes lie with the Tiger and JURY DUTY.
The latter is a horse trying to add victory at Aintree to his win in October's 'American Grand National' at Far Hills, New Jersey, a feat only achieved once previously, by Battleship in 1938.
Tiger Roll's credentials are obvious for all to see but, however talented, his odds in such a big field when good fortune plays such a vital role are too short; so long as Jury Duty's stamina lasts out the marathon distance, with his weight he could be the one.
Yorkshire hopes will be carried by VINTAGE CLOUDS who is trained by Sue Smith at her stables on the edge of Baildon Moor. He ran a good trial for this when finishing second in this year's Ultima and he could go well if bouncing back to his best form.
Two big-price selections with each-way claims are VIEUX LION ROUGE (33/1) who has made it round in all of his previous six Grand National’s, and REGAL ENCORE (66/1) who finished eighth last year and has scope to improve.
Finally, if there are any Aintree gods let’s hope they are looking down on leading owners Andrea and Graham Wylie who lost two horses at Cheltenham. Their UP FOR REVIEW is another Mullins contender and his pedigree points to an improved performance away from soft ground.