Hopes and dreams abound on Grand National day

Martell Cognac Grand National day dawned with overcast skies and high hopes - some of which will be realised but most will come a cropper over the famous and fearsome fences.

Martell Cognac Grand National day dawned with overcast skies and high hopes - some of which will be realised but most will come a cropper over the famous and fearsome fences.

Fears that overnight rain would lead to testing conditions proved well wide of the mark as the weather remained largely dry with the official going just perfect.

All around the course, the early arrivals gathered around television screens showing re-runs of previous Nationals.

For, like classic films, you can never watch a good race enough times.

And the drama of the world's greatest jumps race will always tear at the heartstrings - if not the pursestrings.

Unhappiest man at the track was Ruby Walsh, ruled out of the race after X-rays taken late last night revealed a fractured wrist sustained in a fall at the course yesterday.

His mount on live outsider Exit To Wave will now go to conditional rider Bobby McNally, who gets an unexpected opportunity to take centre stage.

A ride in the National is a prize sought by every jump jockey as the chance to make history.

Alongside McNally, two other inexperienced youngsters who will enjoy their first rides in the race today are Andrew Tinkler and James Davies, the 19-year-old son of Hywel who won the race on Last Suspect in 1985.

Having been booked to ride complete outsider Bramblehill Duke, the chance of Davies emulating his father is slim to say the least.

But the beauty of the National, and thing that draws in a worldwide audience of some 600 million television viewers, is the fact that anything can happen.

Every year, the jockeys are urged to not let the occasion get to them; to take it steady in the early stages of the race and maximise their chances of completing the course.

But just like every punter clutching a ticket in his hands and hoping that this could finally be their year, dreams can quickly turn to despair.

"It's the build-up that makes the race so different from the rest of the year," explains jockey Carl Llewellyn, twice a winner of the race.

"Most of the time you are in and out of the changing room, but for the National the build-up just seems to go on and on and you are actually out on the track with the nerves jangling 20 minutes or more before the start of the race.

"When you start circling around before lining up it's when it really hits you that you're riding in the greatest race in the world. That feeling is almost impossible to describe."

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