Grand National set to enthral nation

April 7, 2017

The world's greatest steeplechase is set for its latest running, as the racing world converges on Aintree for the Grand National.

Of course, the Randox Health Grand National festival is already underway, with racing taking place at the famous course on the outskirts of Liverpool yesterday (April 6th). But tomorrow is the big one, when as many as 40 horses will take their place at the starting line of a race that dates back as far as 1839.

The race itself features some of the most famous fences in racing, including the Chair and the notorious Becher's Brook, although the latter has been somewhat tamed in recent years for safety reasons. Other features like the Elbow turn and the Melling Road - which is covered over in dirt for the occasion - are familiar names to anyone with the remotest interest in the race.

So too is its history, from the unprecedented three victories of Red Rum in the 1970s to the extraordinary victory of Bob Champion on Aldaniti in 1981, when a jockey who had beaten cancer rode to victory on a horse that had narrowly avoided being put down, a story so epic it was made into the film Champions. Indeed, the theme music for the film is still used by the BBC in its coverage.

Could 2017 write itself into the memory in a similar way? A quarter of the population is expected to have a bet and the 11-1 joint favourites are Vieux Lion Rouge, ridden by Tom Scudamore and trained by David Pipe, and Definitely Red, ridden by Danny Cook and trained by Brian Ellison. More of That, ridden by Barry Geraghty and trained by Jonjo O'Neill, is 12-1. Last year's runner up The Last Samuri, ridden by David Bass and trained by Kim Bailey, is 14-1. He is carrying a pound more than last year and no horse has won at top weight since Red Rum in 1974.

Last year's winner Rule the World is not running this time, but this is unlikely to affect the outcome, as back-to-back winners are extremely rare. Red Rum is the only horse since the Second World War to achieve the feat. David Mullins, the winning jockey last time, is on 50-1 outsider Stellar Notion.

Star jockeys to look out for include Sam Twiston-Davies on board Saphir Du Rey, Ruby Walsh on board Pleasant Company and Katie Walsh on Wonderful Charm. She will be hoping to beat her own record for the best finish by a female jockey in the race, a third-placed finish on Seabass in 2012.

Fans enjoying the Grand National may want to enjoy a big racing event in more style, and there could be no better way to do that than enjoying corporate hospitality at the Epsom Derby Festival in June. The headline event in that festival dates back to 1779, 60 years before the Grand National, making it the oldest of Britain's great sporting events.

What Epsom will do in its own way is capture the extraordinary sense of pageantry, fun and excitement of a racing festival, when a big day out, the fine and sometimes novel outfits won by racegoers, the chance to have a flutter and, of course, the drama and stories of the races themselves will provide some unforgettable experiences. 

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