A mere 175 years on, and despite recent modifications, the world’s greatest steeplechase remains just that: an absorbing, crazy, frantic lottery. Of course some things have changed. This is the first £1 million National. The stone wall that Lottery had to overcome is now the water jump, while last year, for the first time, the entire field was still in contention up to the Canal Turn, the eighth fence. That all 40 horses and jockeys returned safely was significant PR plus given that the previous two renewals had been marred by two fatalities - Gold Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete in 2012, and Ornais and Dooneys Gate in 2011.
Aintree had to react and did react but in making the modifications necessary to ensure safety, critics argue the race lost its essence, that inherent danger and sense of drama that made it so captivating to committed punters and once-a-year enthusiasts alike. The race is different but selecting a winner remains a monumentally challenging ask.
This is a task where experience counts, with Mon Mome, then a nine-year-old, the last horse in single figures to win the race in 2009. No eight-year-old has triumphed since Bindaree in 2002, while you have to go way back to Bogskar in 1940 to find the last seven-year-old victor.
The last two years have seen 11-year-old winners, Auroras Encore last year and Neptune Collonges in 2012. Indeed, five of the first six home last year were 11 or over, the exception being today’s favourite, the then nine-year-old Teaforthree in third.
If we were to be ageist about things then we could essentially dismiss half today’s field on the basis of youth. The difficultly with that is it requires us to dismiss the chances of a Gold Cup winner and dual King George winner in nine-year-old Long Run, a Hennessy and Topham winner over the same Aintree fences he’ll face today in seven-year-old Triolo D’Alene, and a former Welsh National winner in nine-year-old Monbeg Dude, to name but three.
Tidal Bay is at the other end of the age scale, bidding to become the first 13-year-old to win the race since Sergeant Murphy in 1923 and has to carry 11st 10lb over a gruelling trip of nearly four and a half miles. Only National legend Red Rum had managed to successfully shoulder such a heavy burden in the last 64 years.
Nevertheless owner Graham Wylie is relishing the chance to make history.
He said: “Wouldn’t it be great to see Tidal Bay win the National? It would be superb if he could make history and I would love it to happen. It’s a big challenge but we will see how he gets on.”
Another thing against Tidal Bay is his preference to be ridden out the back before finishing late, a risky tactic in a race with 40 runners.
That’s also a relevant concern for the fancied Monbeg Dude who benefited from Paul Carberry’s softly, softly tactics to win last year’s Welsh National ahead of Teaforthree. Monbeg Dude needs to be ridden with patience and that could see him run into traffic.
That said, Carberry, who is still thought likely to saddle Monbeg Dude today despite being taken to Aintree University Hospital for a possible pelvic injury after his fall from Kauto Stone in yesterday’s Topham Chase, is confident of a bold showing.
“I hope we can get into a rhythm because he can make a mistake,” he says. “I schooled him over Aintree fences and he respected them, so I hope he respects them on the day. I’ll get a great ride if he does.”
Ireland’s last National victory was Silver Birch in 2007 and the Irish challenge is headed by Double Seven, trained by Martin Brassil, successful in 2006 with Numbersixvalverde, one of 13 former winners who will be parading at Aintree today. Double Seven has come in for significant support in recent days – he’s now 14/1, having been 33/1 last weekend - following confirmation he’ll be ridden by AP McCoy and despite the fact the perennial champion jockey was lukewarm on his chances on Thursday.
Prince De Beauchene is set to finally take his chances after missing out through injury in 2012 when favourite and last year when second favourite. On the basis of his four runs this season he’s hard to fancy but trainer Willie Mullins remains a believer.
“Prince De Beauchene has been favourite for the race for the past two years but we haven’t managed to get him here. His form coming her is not as good this year, but we’ve tried to keep him right and sound. I’m hoping he can peak on the day,” Mullins said.
Cross-country specialist Big Shu, third at Cheltenham last month, could be a player if he takes to the fences and is available at 25/1, while Líon Na Bearnaí proved his ability to handle daunting trips by winning the Irish Grand National in 2012.
Tom Gibney’s charge has only won once since but his fourth, a long way behind Gold Cup runner-up On His Own, at Fairyhouse in February looks decent form now and despite slight ground worries at 28/1 has an each way chance.
The Irish challenge is completed by Colbert Station, Quito De La Roque, Buckers Bridge, Vesper Bell, Raz De Maree and nicely weighted and temptingly priced 50/1 shot Last Time D’Albain.
A winner? It’s easy to make a case against Long Run. He’s second top weight, ran lamentably three times this season and Nicky Henderson, his trainer, has never won the race.
Against that Henderson enjoyed a treble yesterday, Long Run got back to winning ways at Kelso on his most recent run, is fresh having missed Cheltenham, has bags of stamina and his jockey Sam Waley-Cohen is a course specialist!