The 165th John Smith’s Grand National
It’s the biggest and most famous steeplechase anywhere in the world and we look at some of the contenders for the most exciting National lottery.
Every year a story is thrown up by the winner of the Grand National and last year particularly so, with BallaBriggs giving the McCain family another winner in the great race. Now, after the sad passing of Ginger McCain, BallaBriggs will bid to become the first since Red Rum to win back-to-back Nationals, and provide another emotional fairytale for the team at Bankhouse. His preparation has gone well and after a satisfactory return at Kelso a few weeks back, his hooves are pointed at Aintree once again. Although he has to shoulder second top weight, he has been there and done it before.
Top weight is Synchronised, who will be ridden by Champion Tony McCoy, looking for his second win in the race in three years. He rides for his ever popular bosses Jonjo O’Neill and J. P. McManus. Having won the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month, Synchronised will become the first since Golden Miller in 1934 to complete the big double if he passes the post in front. He stays forever, continues to jump more enthusiastically and is still, seemingly, improving. One caveat however is that he may get outpaced early on, as at Cheltenham. Falling behind at Aintree could be a different ball game.
Only two greys have won the Grand National and this year four greys will face the starter: Alfa Beat, Chicago Grey, Neptune Collonges and Swing Bill. Alfa Beat’s connections are hopeful that their ‘forgotten horse’ will run well and he does have two Kerry Nationals to his name, but will need to bounce back from having been pulled up last time. Swing Bill struggled over the fences last December, but Neptune Collonges has class in abundance having won three Irish Grade One chases and staying now looks the name of his game. He may be rushed off his feet early on however, and perhaps the strongest chance for the greys is Chicago Grey who generally jumps very well and stays forever. He has a nice weight and has been targeted at this race all year by 2007 winning trainer Gordon Elliott.
At least a grey has managed to win the race, but a lady jockey has never been successful. Both Carrie Ford and Rosemary Henderson have finished fifth in the past, but it would be some story if either Nina Carberry or Katie Walsh could come home in front. Carberry rides Organisedconfusion who she rode to victory in last year’s Irish Grand National. Trained by Carberry’s uncle Arthur Moore, the race has been the plan since that magical day at Fairyhouse. Longer trips bring out the improvement in this horse who will be fit and primed for Aintree following a series of runs over hurdles at distances far too short for him. Seabass is the mount of Walsh, who rides for her father Ted, victorious with Papillon in 2000. The horse has won seven consecutive races in Ireland and many believe that Ruby Walsh has chosen the wrong horse.
Indeed the dual winning jockey has picked On His Own who must therefore be respected. As must Killyglen who was travelling well when falling late on last year. West End Rocker has won over these fences and in some style. Any rain at Aintree would help his chances. As it would the chances of Giles Cross, although four and a half miles may be above his limit.
The most memorably name in the field, Shakalakaboomboom has a touch of class and the National has always been the plan for him. He travels well and finished seventh in last year’s Topham Chase, jumping beautifully and finding the trip too short. Barry Geraghty has an enviable record around Aintree and is hopeful of a big run. Could this be the horse to break Nicky Henderson’s National duck and secure him the title of Champion Trainer at the same time?
On the eve of this great race, the atmosphere, excitement and tension are all building. The final preparations are in place and the scene has been set. Who will be covered in eternal National glory? Find out at 4.15pm on Saturday.
Image courtesy of guardian.co.uk