While the horses get all the attention, and rightly so, the Grand National is also a battle between the sport’s top trainers.
The 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km) National Hunt event featuring 30 fences is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Very few horses win the race more than once and only one, Red Rum, has ever won it three times, triumphing in 1973, 1974 and 1977. Remarkably, he also came second in 1975 and 1976.
An elite club
Red Rum’s handler, Ginger McCain is one of an elite club of only three trainers (the others being Fred Rimell and George Dockeray) to have bagged four wins at the Aintree event. McCain’s fourth win came with Amberleigh House in 2004, 27 years after Red Rum’s final victory.
The last trainer to record two wins was Gordon Elliott. After winning with 33/1 outsider Silver Birch in 2007, he added a second win last year with Tiger Roll. The next most recent double winner is Nigel Twiston-Davies who triumphed with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree in 2002.
Tiger Roll favourite to retain crown
Gordon Elliott will hope that Tiger Roll can land him his third win despite running off a higher mark this year. A win in a Grade 2 hurdles race last time out has seen the nine-year-old installed as the early favourite in the Grand National odds at a price of 10/1.
Elliot will also be represented by General Principle, who recorded two wins as a novice before finishing an impressive fifth in the 2017 Irish Grand National. He has made steady progress since culminating in a recent third place over 3m4½f at Punchestown.
Stamina key for Twiston-Davies entry
As for Nigel Twiston-Davies, the Gloucestershire trainer began with nine potential entries listed for the race, the most eye-catching of which is Ballyoptic. He was narrowly beaten in last year’s Scottish Grand National and has shown great stamina throughout his career.
However, he was pulled up on his most recent outing and suffered a fall included a fall in the Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree back in December. With question marks over his jumping, prices as high as 50/1 can be found.
Also riding for the Naunton stables is top-weight Bristol De Mai who will carry 11st 10lb, still 5lb below his BHA mark. That incentive from the handicapper will almost certainly ensure that the 33/1 shot will take his place amongst the starter for the sport’s most prestigious race.
Also gunning for a second win is trainer Sue Smith who enjoyed success in 2013 with 66/1 shot Auroras Encore. The West Yorkshire-based trainer’s best hopes lie with Vintage Clouds, owned by Trevor Hemmings who has held three previous Grand National winners. The nine-year-old has a course win under his belt (albeit on non-National fences) but missed the cut for last year’s race.
Third in the Scottish National this term, Vintage Clouds should not be ruled out. And if you believe in omens, Hemmings’ last National winner, back in 2015, was called Many Clouds. Could it be another cloudy day for the owner and his connections?