The weights for this year’s Grand National were announced this week and Tidal Bay (20/1 with bet365) has been allocated top weight. The 13 year old chaser was given top weight last year but had to miss the race due to injury. The horse’s trainer, Paul Nicholls, won the race with Neptune Collognes two years ago and believes Tidal Bay is good enough to win this competitive handicap with a big weight. Tidal Bay is now as low as 16/1 to win the first million pound National.
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L’Escargot won the Grand National in 1975 four years after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Long Run is trying to achieve the same double at Aintree next Saturday. TidalBay is another festival winner trying to win the iconic race but Teaforthree looks a worthy favourite in an open looking renewal.
Long Run (14/1 with Stan James) won the Gold Cup in 2011 and has also won two King Georges at Kempton. At the start of the season another Gold Cup was on the agenda. However, the horse has run moderately at the highest level which means the National is now an option. As just about the best horse in the race the handicapper has had his say and horses at the top of the handicap have a poor recent in the race.
As a member of the Racegoers Club I used their marquee at Cheltenham this year. For a few quid it’s an excellent facility as you can get food and drink quickly away from the mob. The room is sponsored by Betfred which means there are Tote betting facilities and screens to watch the racing. I’m sure some people stayed all afternoon and never saw a horse.
I went to the festival for the first two days and in the marquee there was a guest speaker each day. On the Tuesday it was Tanya Stevenson from Channel 4 but I got a late train so missed her. Nicky Henderson was the speaker the following day and he seemed quite jovial. I don’t know if it’s his personality but he looked a bit tipsy to me.
Anyway he put us off Whisper who won a handicap but he did say Get Me Out Of Here was ready to win a big handicap, but was beaten by a neck by Whisper. Being an inveterate stargazer I couldn’t resist a few words with Nicky. I wished him good luck with Long Run in the National and during our brief conversation he said he thought the horse would love the course and the fences.
Tidal Bay (16/1 with BetVictor) is the enigma of jumps racing. He was good enough to win the Arkle in 2008 and won a grade 1 chase in Ireland as recently as December 2012. He has the class to win the National but one potential problem is getting too far behind during the early stages of the race. I can see the jockey hunting around on the first circuit and making ground on the leaders as “they cross the Melling Road”.
For those unfamiliar with the area Melling Road is actually a suburban street with three bed roomed semis. Most days of the year it’s just a normal residential road but bizarrely the most famous race in the world passes over it. They cut it off to stop the traffic getting in the way of the horse. Hopefully no horses will get in the way of Tidal bay and Long Run next Saturday.
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The most pertinent statistic in the history of the Grand National is that only one horse has won the race 3 times. Red Rum first won the iconic steeplechase in 1973 when overhauling the gallant Crisp on the run-in of a race that has been described as the greatest ever. Rummy won the race again in 1974, finished second in 1975 and 1976 and completed the historic treble in 1977.
That race is also famous for producing one of the most memorable examples of televised sports commentary. Sir Peter O’Sullivan described the end of the race with the words: “Its hats and you’ve never heard anything quite like it at Liverpool”. The horse’s folklore is enhanced by the fact that he was trained behind a car showroom in Birkdale, a village in Southport about 15 miles from Aintree.
Red Rum’s trainer was Donald “Ginger” McCain, not the most political correct of racing professionals. When asked to comment on the prospects of a lady jockey who had already given birth McCain basically said a broodmare will not win the National. McCain also won the race in 2004 with Amberleigh House, owned by Halewood International, the parent company of this year’s sponsor, Crabbies.
Donald McCain junior trained Ballabriggs to win the race himself in 2010. That horse was owned by Sir Trevor Hemmings, also the owner of BlackpoolTower and Hedgehunter who won the race in 2005. Hedgehunter was ridden by Ruby Walsh who was aboard Papillon when that horse won the race in 2000.
Tony McCoy is the best jumps jockey ever but had several near misses in the National before riding Don’t Push It to win in 2010. This was McCoy’s 16th ride in the race and such is his status that he won that year’s Sports Personality of the Year award, the only jockey to have received that honour.
Only three horses aged 13 or over have won the National since its inauguration in 1839. Tidal Bay (14/1 William Hill) with is trying to break that trend but this is a no normal teenaged jumps horse and he has the form and ability to be another winner from his age group. Long Run is four years younger but is looking to become the first horse since L’Escargot to complete the National and Cheltenham Gold Cup double.
The current favourite is Teaforthree (9/1 with Stan James), trained by Rebecca Curtis. If Teaforthree justifies favouritism Curtis will join Jenny Pitman and Venetia Williams as the only female trainers of the winner. No lady jockey has won the race but Katie Walsh, sister of Ruby, was third on Seabass two year ago. Marcus Armytage was the latest amateur winning rider, aboard Mr Frisk in 1990.
Since 1980 only four outright favourites have won the National in addition to two joint favourites. In the last 20 years the winner has been aged 9, 10 or 11 seventeen times during which spell two horses aged 12 and one aged 8 have been winners. The biggest priced winner in the last 34 years was Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009.