Northern Ireland

Grand National - Will the luck of the Irish prevail?

Racegoers at Aintree Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thousands of people are set to attend the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday

It has been described as the greatest steeplechase in the world and with the Grand National it is the illuminating stories associated with the race that linger.

Devon Loch's last-minute collapse, Bob Champion's triumph with Aldaniti and Red Rum's glorious treble are among the tales that have gone down in folklore.

BBC News NI has five interesting facts about this year's event at Aintree - and wonders whether the 'luck of the Irish' will prevail.

1. Red-hot favourite?

Fancied runner Definitly Red was named during a Chinese meal at a restaurant in Belfast and one of his original owners is hoping to enjoy a takeaway on Saturday night.

Peter Magill headed up the Checkmate syndicate based in County Down when it purchased the horse at Goffs in County Kildare for about 15,000 euros (£12,827) in 2012.

He will be attending the race in the company of son Harry and brother, Paul, following an invite from new owner, Phil Martin, and said he backed the mount to win a few months ago at 33-1.

Mr Magill said Definitly Red's first race was a point-to-point in Magheralin where he finished second to Wounded Warrior, who is also set to feature in the National.

He described how the horse got the unique twist in its name and why it was never changed.

"We were all friends in the syndicate and the five of us bought the horse together with trainer Brian Hamilton who helped us choose him," he said.

"We went for a meal at a Chinese restaurant in Belfast, everyone put a name in a hat.

"The name Definitly Red was pulled out and we decided not to change the spelling because we thought it might be unlucky."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Katie Walsh is to ride despite injuring her arm this week

2. Queen of the course?

Another wounded warrior is Katie Walsh who will be in the saddle on Wonderful Charm as she bids to become the first female jockey to win the event.

Early reports had suggested the Irish jockey would miss the race after being taken to hospital by ambulance when she injured her arm on Thursday.

But the 32-year-old later tweeted that she had sustained bruising and her X-rays were clear.

"There is only one Grand National and to get the opportunity to ride in the race again is brilliant - everyone wants to ride in it," she said.

"I'm privileged to ride in it as so many people never get the opportunity to ride over these fences."

Walsh finished third on Seabass in 2012, the highest-ever Grand National finish by a female jockey.

Her elder brother, Ruby, who is on Pleasant Company, has won the Grand National twice, and Katie triumphed in the Irish Grand National Chase at Fairyhouse on novice Thunder And Roses in 2015.

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Media captionGrand National: Des Lynam reacts to bomb threat in 1997

3. Twenty years after IRA bomb scare

It is 20 years since the 150th Grand National was plunged into chaos by an IRA bomb threat minutes before the race was about to start.

The warnings ultimately forced the evacuation of the stands - about 60,000-plus people - on a Saturday afternoon.

Jockeys, still in their silks, had to leave their belongings behind due to the quick exit and many relied on the generosity of Liverpool residents who provided food and shelter for those stranded.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lord Gyllene, a 14-1 chance, triumphed when the race was eventually staged on the Monday

The sight of BBC TV presenter Des Lynam being asked to leave the course during transmission only added to the drama.

Eventually the Grand National took place, without incident, at 17:00 on the Monday, watched by 20,000 people-plus on the course, there for free.

Northern Ireland jockey Tony Dobbin, originally from Downpatrick, took the main prize on Lord Gyllene.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jack Kennedy has more than 100 career winners

4. Young and old

The youngest jockey at the Grand National this year is Irish teenager Jack Kennedy who is 17.

The County Kerry prodigy has more than 100 career winners and is to ride Roi Des Francs for trainer Gordon Elliott.

Mr Elliott, as a 29-year-old, became the youngest winning Grand National trainer in 2007 when Silver Birch triumphed at Aintree.

Noel Fehily from Cork is expected to be the oldest jockey competing in the race at the age of 42. He is to take to the saddle on Blaklion who is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Image caption Mouse Morris (far right) is hoping for another victory at Aintree

5. Mighty Mouse

County Tipperary trainer Mouse Morris is bidding to become the first handler to win back-to-back Grand National titles since Red Rum did the double for Ginger McCain in 1973-74.

Rule The World, a 33-1 shot trained by Morris and owned by the Gigginstown House Stud headed by airline boss Michael O'Leary, won the 2016 event despite never having claimed a victory over fences before.

It was an emotional win, as Morris's son, Christopher, had died in an incident in Argentina the previous year.

The former jockey will be looking for two Irish National winners to bring him success on Saturday - Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses.

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