Photo credit: The Grand National, taken by Nick Smith on Geograph.org.uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
Written by Toby Foster (@TobyFost)
This coming Saturday, nearly 75,000 spectators will assemble at Aintree Racecourse to see the next star of the equine world crowned.
Forty horses, thirty fences, £1 million prize money, and four-and-a-quarter miles of hallowed Liverpudlian turf; the Grand National is one of Britain’s longest-running and best-loved institutions.
First run in 1839, the race has been the country’s biggest source of high sporting drama ever since – guaranteeing an irresistibly enthralling contest and a brave, immortalised winner each time.
Though the National has evolved throughout its 180-year existence, two things have never changed: the race’s reputation as the toughest test on earth for man and beast alike, and its enduring popularity with the public – ten million of whom are expected to tune in to watch the 2019 renewal.
This year’s high-class field of runners includes two previous winners of the race and a number of improving hotshots looking to add a new name to the esteemed trophy. Meanwhile, surveys say that on Saturday, 50% of all British adults will be feverishly examining newspaper form guides, holding workplace sweepstakes and placing hopeful bets in an attempt to crack the annual Aintree puzzle.
The feat of passing the Grand National finishing post in first place is one of which all jockeys dream, but it is the horses themselves whose winning performances in the race are truly ingrained in the enduring recollections of the British public.
Red Rum, Foinavon and Mon Mome are but three of the many names which can evoke shared memories of sensational, popular, odds-defying National triumphs.
In 2019, who will join the roll-call of legends?
The Grand National will take place at 5.15pm tomorrow at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool. 40 runners will attempt to complete two circuits of the track in a total race distance of 4.25 miles. Each fence on the course is jumped twice, save for The Chair and the Water Jump, which are taken just the once. After the 30th fence is jumped, the remaining contenders face a stamina-sapping run-in of 494 yards, in which many a National has been won and lost.
The famous Grand National fences this year’s runners will have to negotiate include:
The First: Countless hopeful National efforts have been prematurely ended at this very first obstacle. 14/1 shot Blaklion saw his race over at The First last year, whilst in 2002, the fence claimed nine horses. At least one runner has fallen at The First in every single Grand National this century, with the exception of the 2013 renewal.
Fence 3: The first true jumping test of the race – a big open ditch which requires a prodigious leap for a horse to clear it successfully.
Becher’s Brook (6th fence): A 5ft fence with a 10-inch drop on the landing side. Negotiating the fence has been famously described by jockeys as ‘like jumping off the edge of the world’. Its size and structure were modified in 2011 to reduce the risk to horses. Nevertheless, it has claimed at least one faller in every 21st century National – apart from in 2013.
Foinavon (7th fence): Named after legendary 100/1 winner Foinavon, the fence is jumped immediately after Becher’s Brook and although small, can often take horses by surprise.
Canal Turn (8th fence): Situated at a 90-degree angle, leading to a scramble as all horses attempt to save space and take the innermost route.
The Chair (15th fence): The largest fence on the course at 5ft 2in.
Water Jump (16th fence): The smallest fence at 2ft 6in, but with a pool of water situated directly in advance of the landing side.
The Last (30th fence): Often crucial to deciding the victor of the race. A number of horses may jump The Last simultaneously, so a spring-heeled leap is essential to provide a psychological impetus up the punishing run-in. By the same token, a tired jump at The Last can be a cruel way to end a horse’s National challenge – most notably when Hedgehunter fell at The Last when vying for the lead in 2004 (although he returned to win the race in 2005).
The 2019 Grand National will be shown live on ITV1. Former Sky Sports presenter Ed Chamberlin will anchor the channel’s coverage, with analysis from 2010 National winning jockey Sir AP McCoy, 1996 winner Mick Fitzgerald, and injured leading rider Bryony Frost. Commentary will come from the remarkably experienced trio of Richard Hoiles, Mark Johnson and Ian Bartlett, who have called 44 Grand Nationals between them.
Reigning champion Tiger Roll is trying to become the first horse to win back-to-back Grand Nationals since Red Rum in 1974.
Bless The Wings will be the first ever 14-year-old horse to win the Grand National if he triumphs.
Lizzie Kelly (riding Tea For Two) and Rachael Blackmore (riding Valseur Lido) will both be attempting to become the first female jockey to win the Grand National. The best ever result from a lady rider is currently Katie Walsh’s 3rd place finish on Seabass in 2012.
Trainer Gordon Elliott has already set the record for having the most runners in one renewal of the Grand National – 13 of his horses will take part in this year’s race.
|2018||Tiger Roll||8||A head||Davy Russell||Gordon Elliott|
|2017||One For Arthur||8||4.5 lengths||Derek Fox||Lucinda Russell|
|2016||Rule The World||9||6 lengths||David Mullins||Mouse Morris|
|2015||Many Clouds||8||1.75 lengths||Leighton Aspell||Oliver Sherwood|
|2014||Pineau De Re||11||5 lengths||Leighton Aspell||Dr Richard Newland|
|2013||Auroras Encore||11||9 lengths||Ryan Mania||Sue Smith|
|2012||Neptune Collonges||11||A nose||Daryl Jacob||Paul Nicholls|
ALL 40 RUNNERS REVIEWED AND RANKED
Below, Nerve Sport examines each of the 40 Grand National runners. HOWEVER, NERVE SPORT DOES NOT CONDONE OR SUPPORT GAMBLING IN ANY FORM.
Each horse has been assigned a rating out of five based on their chances of success. These ratings are derived from an assessment of the horse using key attributes needed to win the Aintree showpiece: overall form, Aintree form, stamina, jumping ability and consistency.
5 out of 5: Leading contender
4 out of 5: Strong claims
3 out of 5: In with a shout
2 out of 5: Rank outsider
1 out of 5: No-hoper
1) ANIBALE FLY: Runner-up in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup (also 3rd in 2018) and placed in the 2018 Grand National. He’s progressing well and appears to be a major player. However, he must carry top weight to victory which other, better horses have failed to do.
Age: 9 Jockey: Barry Geraghty (won on Monty’s Pass in 2003) Trainer: Tony Martin Rating: 4
2) VALTOR: French challenger who routed a quality field of staying chasers at Ascot on his English debut last December. He failed to compete in the Cotswold Chase most recently though and now looks plenty high enough in the weights for this contest.
Age: 10 Jockey: Daryl Jacob (won on Neptune Collonges in 2012) Trainer: Nicky Henderson Rating: 3
3) TIGER ROLL: Last year’s Grand National winner looked better than ever at Cheltenham in March when storming home the gruelling Cross Country Chase. He’s classy, tough, unbeaten this season and well-backed to defend his crown. But he carries 9lb more in the handicap this year, and no horse has won back-to-back Grand Nationals since Red Rum in 1974…
Age: 9 Jockey: Davy Russell (won on Tiger Roll in 2018) Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 5
4) OUTLANDER: The 2016 Lexus Chase winner was a classy horse in his prime but nowadays his best form is starting to get dust on it. Others readily preferred.
Age: 11 Jockey: Keith Donoghue Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 2
5) DON POLI: Lightly-raced plodder who hasn’t won for over three years. Came 3rd in the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he no longer has the speed, desire or stamina to pose a threat in the National.
Age: 10 Jockey: Patrick Mullins Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 2
6) GO CONQUER: Powerful front-runner in the form of his life. Usually jumps impeccably and takes to his races with an admirable vim and vigour, but might struggle to keep up the tempo for this mammoth 4.25m trip.
Age: 10 Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies Rating: 4
7) MALA BEACH: Irish raider making his debut in England. He’s strong on stamina and has some decent form in Ireland, although he now faces a big step up in class.
Age: 11 Jockey: Derek Fox Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 3
8) MINELLA ROCCO: Gold Cup runner-up two years ago and has shown on many occasions that he is capable of strong staying at the highest level. Winless in three years though, and five non-completions in his last ten races make him hard to fancy at Aintree.
Age: 9 Jockey: Richie McLernon Rating: 2
9) LAKE VIEW LAD: Proficient and consistent grey with form on an upward curve. Looks to be one of the principal challengers. A neat jumper and has placed in his last ten races…
Age: 9 Jockey: Henry Brooke Trainer: Nick Alexander Rating: 5
10) PLEASANT COMPANY: Runner-up in last year’s Grand National, losing out by just a head to Tiger Roll. He also finished 9th in 2017. A sound jumper who likes to chase the lead, and there’s no doubt that he gets the trip based on last year’s stellar performance. Question marks over whether he is now past his peak. Ridden by last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Paul Townend.
Age: 11 Jockey: Paul Townend Trainer: Willie Mullins Rating: 4
11) BALLYOPTIC: Some great runs at the back end of last season, including being runner-up by just a nose in the Scottish Grand National. Progressive, has stamina and can keep up with the pace. Has found life much tougher in recent months though, and fell in December’s Becher Chase over the Aintree fences. Cut no ice in the recent Grand National trial either.
Age: 10 Jockey: Tom Bellamy Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies Rating: 2
12) DOUNIKOS: Recovered from a recent spate of woeful showings by winning Punchestown’s Grand National Trial in February. Some solid runs as a novice without ever really setting the world alight. He’s perhaps running in the National a year too soon.
Age: 8 Jockey: Jack Kennedy Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 3
13) RATHVINDEN: Reliable stayer with proven long-distance credentials. Has only run once in the last twelve months so may lack sharpness, and has never raced at Aintree before. Not to be underestimated though…
Age: 11 Jockey: Ruby Walsh (won on Papillon in 2000 and Hedgehunter in 2005) Trainer: Willie Mullins Rating: 5
14) ONE FOR ARTHUR: Won the Grand National in 2017 but has since suffered long-term injury problems. Unseated his jockey in both his races this season. If this horse can find top form again, he stands a fighting chance. He’s a punter’s nightmare- hard to back, but impossible to write off.
Age: 10 Jockey: Derek Fox (won on One For Arthur in 2017) Trainer: Lucinda Russell Rating: 3
15) ROCK THE KASBAH: Impressive win in the BetVictor Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in December and looks a true stayer. He’s classy, hitting top gear just at the right time and has been kept fresh for the race. Champion Jockey Richard Johnson is on board too. The one to beat.
Age: 9 Jockey: Richard Johnson Trainer: Philip Hobbs Rating: 5
16) WARRIOR’S TALE: Champion Trainer-elect Paul Nicholls’ only runner in this year’s renewal. Won the Grand Sefton Chase back in December but was pulled up in the 2018 Grand National and it’s hard to see why he would do much better this year.
Age: 10 Jockey: Harry Cobden Trainer: Paul Nicholls Rating: 2
17) REGAL ENCORE: Another horse making his second Grand National appearance. He finished 8th in 2017 having stayed on well. A couple of nice runs since, but is prone to having a bad day at the office all too often. Best watched.
Age: 11 Jockey: Mark Walsh Trainer: Anthony Honeyball Rating: 2
18) MAGIC OF LIGHT: Encouraging mare with a number of good performances in key trials. Certainly no stamina worries and has maintained her good form throughout this season. Precedent is not in her favour – victory would make her the first mare to win the National since Nickel Coin in 1951.
Age: 8 Jockey: Paddy Kennedy Trainer: Jessica Harrington Rating: 3
19) A TOI PHIL: Lots of decent form over much shorter distances but this is most likely a bridge too far for a horse who finds lengthier trips a bit of a slog.
Age: 9 Jockey: Denis O’Regan Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 2
20) JURY DUTY: Winner of last year’s American Grand National. Recent victory in an important Irish trial puts him in the frame, but he might just lack a winning engine for this mammoth trip.
Age: 8 Jockey: Robbie Power (won on Silver Birch in 2007) Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 3
21) NOBLE ENDEAVOR: Plenty of credentials in long-distance chases and has shown admirable consistency, returning quite promisingly from a recent injury. Should go well and looks a strong candidate for a place finish.
Age: 10 Jockey: Mark Enright Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 3
22) MONBEG NOTORIOUS: Might prove popular with fans of Conor McGregor but has been well beaten in recent outings, just like his namesake. Not one to trust and he will need to show massive improvement to stand any chance here.
Age: 8 Jockey: Sean Bowen Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 2
23) RAMSES DE TEILLEE: Young gun who was runner-up in both the Grand National Trial and Welsh Grand National this season. Has been kept fresh for the race and looks a live contender, though he would be the first seven-year-old to win since Bogskar in 1940.
Age: 7 Jockey: David Noonan Trainer: David Pipe Rating: 4
24) TEA FOR TWO: Quirky horse with two Grade One wins to his name. Competed well at the top level including placing 3rd in two renewals of the King George. Yet there’s a feeling he has never truly fulfilled his promise – and this National effort might be a year too late.
Age: 10 Jockey: Lizzie Kelly Trainer: Nick Williams Rating: 2
25) JUST A PAR: Old stalwart who got around in his own time in two previous attempts at the National, finishing 15th in 2016 and 14th in 2017. He’s had just one run in the last two years and looks very much a light of former days.
Age: 12 Jockey: TBC Trainer: James Moffatt Rating: 1
26) STEP BACK: Imposing winner of the high-quality Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last season. Hasn’t shown the same form since, and there are concerns over his jumping too. Rider Nico De Boinville has fallen at the very first fence in his two previous Grand National starts- a third early departure is far from unlikely.
Age: 9 Jockey: Nico De Boinville Trainer: Mark Bradstock Rating: 2
27) ULTRAGOLD: No doubting his course form, with back-to-back wins in The Topham Chase making him a bit of a specialist over the National fences. His stable’s form leaves a lot to be desired though, and this four-and-a-quarter mile trip might just leave him wanting.
Age: 11 Jockey: Tom O’Brien Trainer: Colin Tizzard Rating: 3
28) BLOW BY BLOW: Hard to get excited about his chances based on recent runs, and certainly seems more suited to middle-distance races.
Age: 8 Jockey: Andrew Ring Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 1
29) UP FOR REVIEW: Well-regarded Irish hurdler who has successfully transferred to fences. Looks solid enough but a few stamina questions to be answered here.
Age: 10 Jockey: Danny Mullins Trainer: Willie Mullins Rating: 3
30) SINGLEFARMPAYMENT: Bit of an enigma, undoubtedly talented but very inconsistent. Can be a bit temperamental during races too, and finds winning very difficult. Experienced jockey Paddy Brennan is tasked with aiming this loose cannon in the right direction.
Age: 9 Jockey: Paddy Brennan Trainer: Tom George Rating: 3
31) VIEUX LION ROUGE: Will join a select group of horses who have run in four Nationals. Has finished 6th, 7th and 9th on his previous attempts, each time seeming to peter out in the final stages of the race. He had an absolute shocker in a recent Haydock run, which will have done nothing to rouse his connections’ hopes. Will be a popular bet but difficult to find reasons why this go will be fourth time lucky.
Age: 10 Jockey: Tom Scudamore Trainer: David Pipe Rating: 2
32) VALSEUR LIDO: Turned in a good performance in last year’s race when 8th, and he’s 12lb lower in the handicap this time around. Another big effort could see him threaten the places. One of the better outsiders.
Age: 10 Jockey: Rachael Blackmore Trainer: Henry De Bromhead Rating: 3
33) VINTAGE CLOUDS: Good runs in last year’s Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals have put him firmly in the picture as a candidate for the big one. Jumps proficiently, stays well and thrives in big fields. Could prove tough to beat.
Age: 9 Jockey: Danny Cook Trainer: Sue Smith Rating: 5
34) GENERAL PRINCIPLE: Gritty, viable grafter who looks underrated by the handicapper. Last year’s Irish Grand National winner. Not much to write home about this season so far but the Grand National has been his target from the get-go. If he can recapture his form from last year, he’ll give the principals something to think about.
Age: 10 Jockey: JJ Slevin Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 4
35) LIVELOVELAUGH: A name likely to be popular with the public, but racing followers will be steering clear. He has good form over much shorter distances but doesn’t look best suited to the attritional slog of the National. Rider David Mullins is a dab hand at getting the best out of his mounts in this race but faces a tough task here.
Age: 9 Jockey: David Mullins (won on Rule The World in 2016) Trainer: Willie Mullins Rating: 2
36) WALK IN THE MILL: Hardy winner of the Becher Chase this season, and although form before that is uninspiring, he looks well capable of pulling another top performance out of the bag. Should go close if he’s on song.
Age: 9 Jockey: James Best Trainer: Robert Walford Rating: 4
37) FOLSOM BLUE: Plodding old-timer whose 4th place finish in last year’s Irish Grand National was a career best unlikely to be bettered. He stays all day but might find the race happening a bit too quickly for his liking.
Age: 12 Jockey: Luke Dempsey Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 2
38) CAPTAIN REDBEARD: Progressive stayer now beginning to find some consistency. Unseated rider at 7th fence in this race last year and stamina still a relative unknown.
Age: 10 Jockey: Sam Coltherd Trainer: Stuart Coltherd Rating: 2
39) BLESS THE WINGS: Robust teenager who stayed on strongly to finish 3rd in the 2018 Grand National. That great effort perhaps should have been his swansong, as age has been catching up with him this year. He’s still tough as old boots and stays longer than the proverbial mother-in-law, but he’s far too slow these days to compete. Plus, no horse over the age of 13 has won the National since 1853.
Age: 14 Jockey: Robbie Dunne Trainer: Gordon Elliott Rating: 1
40) JOE FARRELL: Reigning Scottish Grand National Champion has only just qualified for the race but he looks well capable of going all the way at Aintree. Possesses the speed, stamina and slick jumping ability to be very useful indeed.
Age: 10 Jockey: Adam Wedge Trainer: Rebecca Curtis Rating: 5
TOBY FOSTER’S PREDICTION:
1st: Rock The Kasbah
2nd: Lake View Lad
3rd: Joe Farrell