Grand National 2019: Cornelius Lysaght's ones to watch in Aintree showpiece
|Randox Health Grand National|
|Venue: Aintree Racecourse Date: 6 April Time: 17:15 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC Sport website - more details.|
Grand National day remains one of Britain's principal sporting days with an estimated £150m bet on horses with everything from good form to an attractive name; around the world it's said that more than 600 million people will follow the 172nd staging on radio, TV and online.
The BBC's horse racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght considers some of the runners and riders to look out for in Saturday's big race at Aintree...
Tiger's on a roll towards the records books
On so many fronts, Tiger Roll, the 2018 winner back chasing more glory, this could be history in the making. The nine-year-old, once described affectionately by his airline-tycoon owner Michael O'Leary as "a little rat of a thing", may be only diminutive in stature but he's an increasingly large presence, and is hot favourite to win after running away with his fourth Cheltenham Festival prize in six years in March.
Jockey Davy Russell is again wearing the maroon and white silks of O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud racing operation, and success would not only see Tiger Roll become the first horse since Aintree icon Red Rum to secure a repeat success in consecutive years (1973 and 1974), but it's likely his odds would be the shortest for any winner since Poethlyn, the 11-4 favourite, exactly 100 years ago - though when, like Tiger Roll, Poethlyn returned in a blaze of expectation in 1920 he fell at the very first fence.
Bookies who are facing huge liabilities are perhaps pinning their hopes on no favourite having won since Don't Push It and AP McCoy in 2010, and, in the intervening years, the average winning odds have been 28-1.
Tiger Roll's trainer Gordon Elliott is all set to break the now retired Martin Pipe's record of 10 runners in the line-up, set in 2001 (though a remounted third was Pipe's best finisher), and others of his being talked up include General Principle, Noble Endeavor and Jury Duty, 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.
Verdict: 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 look short; so long as Jury Duty's stamina lasts out the marathon distance, with his weight he could be of interest.
Trevor's after an historic victory too
Over the years the nickname 'Mr Grand National' has been bestowed on various people, notably the late trainers Fred Rimell and Ginger 'Red Rum' McCain, both of whom saddled a record-equalling four winners; these days, it's octogenarian owner Trevor Hemmings who most fits the bill.
A self-made multi-millionaire businessman and regular on the Sunday Times Rich List, Hemmings has seen jockeys wearing his green, yellow and white silk steer home the winner three times: Ruby Walsh on Hedgehunter in 2005, Jason Maguire riding Ballabriggs (2011), and Leighton Aspell when Many Clouds took the trophies in 2015.
Only Red Rum's owner Noel le Mare and two from more than 100 years ago, Captain James Machell and Sir Charles Assheton-Smith (previously Charles Duff) have owned as many, but Hemmings looks to have two lively chances of passing them in the Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds, last season's Scottish Grand National third, and the exuberant Lake View Lad, a first Grand National runner for Scottish trainer Nick Alexander.
Both horses are grey-coloured and nine years old - historically, the best age to be a winner - and the similarity doesn't end there as they both come to Aintree in good form after finishing in the frame - second and third respectively - in the same major handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Verdict: Preference is for Lake View Lad because he has a progressive profile, and, to use another much-loved racing cliche, 'could be anything' over this extreme distance.
Could it be 21st time lucky for champion jockey Richard Johnson?
The Grand National isn't necessarily Richard Johnson's favourite race: in 20 attempts, the three-time champion jockey has twice finished agonisingly close in second place - on What's Up Boys, behind Bindaree in 2002, and Balthazar King, when Pineau De Re won in 2014 - but mainly he's hit the deck or pulled up his mount.
In fact, Johnson has not taken part in the last two stagings. This time, he will partner Rock The Kasbah, one of the leading contenders, trained by in-form Philip Hobbs; the horse hasn't run since disappointing in a race before Christmas but prior to that he advertised his big-race prospects twice, once when taking a competitive prize at Cheltenham in November, and the previous April when runner-up behind fellow Aintree hopeful Step Back - strongly fancied by some - at Sandown.
Johnson's time for big-race glory may yet come - after all he knows all about rewards for patience having been perennial runner-up in the championship behind the now-retired AP McCoy before eventually landing the title; he's done it twice more since with a fourth apparently in the bag when the season ends on 27 April.
Verdict: It's a slight pity the horse hasn't run for so long, but the Hobbs team knows what it's doing and the string is in good order so he's in the mix.
Kelly teams up with Mum as she looks to be leading lady
Fresh from another Cheltenham Festival success, Lizzie Kelly is all set to become the 18th female jockey to take part in the Grand National since Charlotte Brew first broke the previous men-only mould when lining up on Barony Fort in the 1977 race, won by Red Rum.
Racing doesn't generally take much notice of the gender of either Kelly, rider of two-time Grade One-race winner Tea For Two, trained by her mother Jane Williams, nor Rachael Blackmore, who made her debut in 2018 and is on Irish challenger Valseur Lido - they're simply regarded as jockeys, and very good ones, having both enjoyed Cheltenham Festival success in March, Blackmore twice.
However, the Grand National remains unconquered by a female jockey so everyone knows how big a deal victory for either would be. The best result to date for a woman riding in the Grand National is that of Katie Walsh, who retired from the saddle last year, having steered Seabass into third place when joint-favourite for the 2012 race won by Neptune Collonges.
Verdict: Valseur Lido hasn't won for a bit, and wouldn't want to be making too many jumping errors like one he made during his last race at Cheltenham; Tea For Two lowered the colours of the great Cue Card, no less, when last successful, but that was two years ago. However, given luck in running, he could provide supporters a run for their money.
Might it be two for Arthur?
Robbed by injury of the chance to lift the Grand National trophy for the second year running in 2018, members of the team around 2017 winner One For Arthur are in a noticeably upbeat mood as they return the horse to the scene of his greatest triumph.
The 10-year-old and his colourful owners Debs Thompson and Belinda McClung - who took up racing as 'Two Golf Widows' as an alternative to their partners' passion - gained quite a profile after storming to only a second success for a horse trained in Scotland, following Rubstic in 1979.
However, when a tendon injury was diagnosed, 'Arthur' missed the following season. Since his Aintree victory he's raced just twice and both times parted company with his rider - in addition, hopes of any other run were scuppered by unseasonably dry weather.
The only thing for it was to take the horse, nursed back to full fitness by trainer Lucinda Russell and team at Kinross, for a galloping and jumping-practice session following a fixture at Carlisle, or as Russell described it "plan F".
The performance impressed big-race jockey Derek Fox enough to declare his mount "back to his best", and, after so many months of things going wrong, Russell says she and Fox "hugged each other like we'd just won the race". So, while all the 'returning hero' talk is of Tiger Roll, there's another former winner about whom perhaps we shouldn't forget.
Verdict: It's a very big ask coming to Aintree off the back of twice unseating the rider, but he's shown his mettle around the course and stranger things have happened.
Focus on safety
For the first time, every horse taking part in any race at the Grand National Festival will have to pass the stringent fitness tests put in place before March's Cheltenham Festival.
Previously those veterinary examinations were confined to runners in the Grand National and the two other races that take place over Becher's Brook, The Chair, the Canal Turn etc. - the Topham Chase and Foxhunters' Chase.
The safety of horses and riders is the sport's hottest topic, though the spotlight has rather moved from Aintree, where £1.5m was spent on fence modifications after the 2012 staging in which, for the second year running, two horses lost their lives, to Cheltenham.
There have been fatalities in other races on the historic Grand National course but none since 2012 in the feature itself, though officials insist that they continually review safety standards and make any improvements they deem necessary.
Any other business…
With more than half of the main fancies contained within it, the Irish challenge is looking more formidable than ever with Willie Mullins as well as Gordon Elliott, his arch rival at home, sending over the strongest of contingents.
For Mullins, most tipped are Pleasant Company, because of his previous form when narrowly beaten runner-up behind Tiger Roll in 2018, Rathvinden, recently successful at Fairyhouse, and the Leinster National winner Pairofbrowneyes, one sure to be popular with the 'nice-name brigade'.
The best entry in the formbook by any runner in the race is that held by Irish hope Anibale Fly, trained by Tony Martin for owner JP McManus, which was a fine second in March's Cheltenham Gold Cup. Incidentally, Anibale Fly isn't McManus' sole Gold Cup runner-up in the field - 2017 second Minella Rocco is rated a solid outsider.
Owner Baroness Harding goes for a rare double with her runner, the Robert Walford-trained Walk In the Mill, winner of the Becher Chaser on the Grand National course in December. As Dido Harding, the businesswoman and peer also saw her silks carried to victory in the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup by Cool Dawn. Having so recently navigated the famous course and with one of the lower weights on his back, Walk In The Mill, a last-minute absentee in 2018 because of injury, has his supporters.
It took Scotland 28 years to win a second Grand National when One For Arthur took the prize in 2017, but Wales has been waiting a damn sight longer for win number two - 114 years to be precise. In 1905, jockey 'Titch' Mason was paid the then princely sum of £300 to rest up in the weeks prior to the race to ensure that he remained injury-free before partnering Pembrokeshire-trained Kirkland to victory.
But since then, despite a few recent Welsh near-misses, there's been no luck; however, in a year that has already seen Wales win rugby union's Six Nations Grand Slam, perhaps its racing's time has come again - somebody must think so as Joe Farrell, winner of the 2018 Scottish Grand National, and also prepared in Pembrokeshire, by Rebecca Curtis, is proving a popular choice.
Elsewhere at the three-day festival, trainers Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls are expected to be in their pomp. Though reigning champion Henderson has conceded the season's title, decided on prize money, to Nicholls, there are some very big purses up for grabs.
Warren Greatrex saddles as interesting a runner as there is all week when the mare La Bague Au Roi, unbeaten in four races this season and a deliberate absentee from the Cheltenham Festival with Aintree in mind, lines up in the Devenish Manifesto Novices' Chase in which some quality male horses must concede to her racing's 'sex allowance', a potentially crucial seven pounds.
And finally… 20 years ago, before the 1999 Grand National, I tipped four horses - Bobbyjo, Blue Charm, Call It A Day and Addington Boy - which filled the first four placings.
Two decades on, I'm hoping lightning might finally strike again with, you will note, this not especially tigerish quartet:
Lake View Lad
Rock The Kasbah