The Grand National – the worlds most famous and exciting steeplechase – and just the very words, once uttered, trigger a sense of anticipation and excitement that few other events can offer.
The race is as infamous as it is famous….its certainly not been without its share of lowlights across the years….but what cannot be questioned is that for one Saturday every year, the world holds its breath as those magnificent brave horses and jockeys race for over 4 miles to determine which one will go down in Horse Racing folklore.
Lets look at the race from a few angles and preview the 2019 renewal:
WHAT MAKES THE GRAND NATIONAL SO UNIQUE
There is no race like the Grand National – the fences, as seen from the picture above, are unique in their shape, size and construction. The basic fences are fairly standard to all other National Hunt course fences – but the National fences are all then covered with branches of spruce, which dramatically come away as the horses jump, giving more a crashing through effect which just adds to the drama. The fences are stiff but not unfair, and many have been modified over the years for safety reasons. The highest fence on the National circuit is the Chair (jump 15) which is only tackled once…having a 6 foot wide ditch to leap over before the 5 foot 2 inch obstacle. Bechers Brook is the most notorious fence, having a landing side drop…but the third fence in the race is the one most feared by many…a huge open ditch fence that comes very quickly.
Whilst the jumps in isolation are test enough – they are normally quite surmountable for the horses to negotiate. But in a field of 40 horses – the largest field of any race, there is usually so much going off that the horses get distracted and can miss their jump causing a fall…..and then there is the energy sapping extended 4 mile trip, which is magnified if the ground is soft or worse…all these factors, along with a raucous crowd, come into play and make the race like no other.
WHY IS IT SO UNUSUAL FOR A HORSE TO WIN THE RACE MORE THAN ONCE?
Only the legendary Red Rum (above) has won the race more than once…winning it three times in the 1970’s. Before and after, many have tried to repeat the feat, but all have failed. The main reason for this is that the Grand National is a handicap race, where the better horses carry more weight than those rated less – so past winners invariably have much more weight to carry around the race than when they first won the race….notwithstanding they are now a year older and then there is the huge element of luck in running. It is a hugely tough ask to win the race once….and quite often, once is more than enough. It is very likely we will never see another ‘Rummy’.
THIS YEARS FIELD – WHO WILL WIN?
Last year, the diminutive Tiger Roll just held off the fast finishing Pleasant Company to win the 2018 renewal….and the Tiger lines up again this year in the next attempt to repeat. History is very much against this little wonder horse…but he doesn’t know that, and his campaign leading up to this race has been nothing short of spectacular. He cruised round the Cheltenham cross-country track at the recent Cheltenham Festival, winning by a distance and looked as fresh as a daisy. He jumps for fun and has a great cruising speed. So good has been his performance, that he is ante-post favourite for the Grand National with the shortest odds on offer currently in living memory – if indeed ever. If he can get some luck in running, he will take all the beating and just maybe dispel the notion of the previous paragraph.
Of the rest, last years runner up Pleasant Company also lines up again, as well as previous winner One For Arthur. Irish raider Rathvinden has top jockey Ruby Walsh aboard and must have a squeak, whilst champion jockey Richard Johnson saddles up Rock the Kasbah. The lady jockeys are represented – Lizzie Kelly on board Tea for Two and Rachael Blackmore on Valseur Lido. But this is a true pinstickers race….very often a horse with no apparent chance comes from the clouds and makes the frame if not wins….who can forget the 100/1 winners of Mon Mome and most famously of all, Foinavon.
Whoever wins the race, it will have been richly deserved and they will rightly go down in the annals of racing history. We would love to see Tiger Roll prevail again…there wont be a dry eye in the house if he does. But the best thing of all will be seeing all horses and jockeys return safely after the race and another spectacular race to enjoy.