IT’S the day when everyone has a flutter. Grand National Day. Aintree racecourse. 40 runners. 30 fences. Four and a half miles. And only one winner.
But who will that winner be this coming Saturday? To help you make your selection, here is a guide to all the runners from our resident racing expert and tipster RICHARD SILVERWOOD.
All details were correct at the time of going to press.
IMPERIAL COMMANDER 12yo, 11st10lb, 16/1
Magnificent winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010, when beating Denman and Kauto Star, but has been plagued by injury since, restricting his subsequent runs to four. A relentless galloper and exuberant jumper, he hails from the yard of Nigel Twiston-Davies, who saddled Earth Summit to victory in 1998 and Bindaree in 2002. Although burdened by top weight, he is actiually well handicapped on a mark of 158 when you consider he was 27lbs higher at his peak. However, only one 12-year-old has won the race since 1995, while six of his eight victories have come at Cheltenham.
WHAT A FRIEND 10yo, 11st9lb, 50/1
One of two horses in this year’s National part-owned by Manchester United manager and racing devotee Sir Alex Ferguson. Fourth in the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup, 11 lengths behind the winner, Long Run, he is just short of top class and is now far from straightforward. He is based at the stable of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who saddled last year’s winner, Neptune Collonges, but when the gelding had a previous try at the National two years ago, he was pulled up after tiring on the second circuit.
WEIRD AL 10yo, 11st8lb, 40/1
One of three probable contenders from the famous yard of Donald McCain, whose father famously trained the legendary Red Rum. At one stage, he was considered a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse in the making, particularly when he won the Grade Two Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October 2011. But although he remains lightly-raced, lots of injuries have hampered his progress -- to the extent that he’s become unreliable. He fell late on in last year’s National when weakening.
QUEL ESPRIT 9yo, 11st 7lb, 40/1
High-class grey who has never fulfilled his potential because of a series of injuries that have restricted him to only nine runs over fences. Trained by champion Irish handler Willie Mullins, who sent out Hedgehunter to win the 2005 National, he’s a strong galloper and well handicapped on his best form, which includes a Grade One triumph in last year’s Irish Hennessy Gold Cup. But he would prefer softer ground and there are stamina doubts.
BIG FELLA THANKS 11yo 11st6lb, 40/1
A fourth crack at the race by a sound jumper formerly with champion trainer Paul Nicholls but now in the care of Tom George. On each of the previous three occasions, he has handled the track well, finishing sixth in 2009, fourth in 2010 and seventh two years ago, but equally he has palpably failed to stay the marathon trip. It’s likely to be a similar story this time round, but he’s a consistent sort and in fine form.
ROBERTO GOLDBACK 11yo, 11st6lb, 33/1
Victory in a race he’s never won would cap a superb season for Nicky Henderson, who is set to be crowned champion trainer. And this seasoned campaigner is no forlorn hope after being deliberately laid out for the race since being shipped over from Ireland where he was a consistent horse with a touch of class, regularly placed in Grade Ones. Five runs in the UK this term have all been solid efforts, while the good ground and help from the plate of Barry Geraghty, who steered home Monty’s Pass in 2003, can only be positives.
SEABASS 10yo, 11st6lb, 10/1
The headline-writers will have a field day if Katie Walsh becomes the first female jockey to ride the National winner aboard her trainer father Ted’s stayer. The sister of ace pilot Ruby, she almost made it on the same horse last year when he took to the course well and finished a game third. He didn’t quite stay, but the fact that this year’s race is being run over a slightly shorter trip can only help. What’s more, Walsh snr, who saddled Papillon to victory in 2000, has specifically targeted the race this time round, whereas he went into the 2012 renewal on the back of an amazing run of six straight wins that propelled his handicap mark from 95 to 149. He must contend with another 5lb here.
BALLABRIGGS 12yo, 11st4lb, 20/1
Only two horses have landed the Aintree National more than once, but the fact that one of them (Red Rum in the 1970s) was trained by Ginger McCain must offer hope to son Donald that he can repeat the feat. His lightly-raced 12-year-old, who is also a former Cheltenham Festival hero, was a brilliant winner two years ago and followed up with a creditable sixth last season. Now he is down to a handicap mark only 2lbs higher than 2011 and stable jockey Jason Maguire again takes the mount after a perfectly acceptable prep run at Kelso last month.
SUNNYHILLBOY 10yo, 11st4lb, 14/1
I still have nightmares about Jonjo O’Neill’s charge, and my main fancy, getting pipped on the line by Neptune Collonges in last year’s race. Although he’s not really built for Aintree, he jumped and travelled like a dream under a peach of a ride by Richie McLernon, despite badly striking into his off-fore tendon at some stage, and looked sure to win approaching the elbow. Owned by JP McManus, the son of Old Vic is back again but must carry 10lbs more, while a preparation comprising two insignificant runs over hurdles hardly instils confidence.
TEAFORTHREE 9yo, 11st3lb, 16/1
Few challengers possess as many credentials for Saturday’s race than Rebecca Curtis’s son of Oscar. And few winners would be as poignant, given that he was ridden to victory in the four-miler at last year’s Cheltenham Festival by amateur jockey JT McNamara, who was paralysed by a horrific fall at this year’s event. This season, the nine-year-old was targeted at the Welsh National at Chepstow and ran a blinder when a heavily backed favourite, touched off only by a rival receiving 16lbs. He was still feeling the effects of that run when turning in a rare below-par display last time out, but Curtis reports him back to his best and working well. A fine jumper who gallops all day and goes on any ground, his only negative is that he might now be a shade too high in the handicap.
ACROSS THE BAY 9yo, 11st2lb, 33/1
Tough and dependable sort who alternates between fences and hurdles and has his syndicate owners bullish about his chances. One of three probable runners for Donald McCain, he was tailed off in the Welsh National but thrashed one of Saturday’s rivals, Cappa Bleu, earlier in the season and warmed up for Aintree with a fine Grade Two win over hurdles at Haydock on his first outing since a wind operation. Likely to be among those cutting out the running, but might be too high in the handicap to get competitive.
JOIN TOGETHER 8yo, 11st2lb, 16/1
Emerged on the scene as a promising novice chaser early last season when his scalps in two wins at Cheltenham included one of Saturday’s rivals, Teaforthree. However, he has been largely disappointing since and while he represents last season’s winning trainer/jockey partnership of Paul Nicholls and Daryl Jacob, only one eight year-old has triumphed in the race in the last 20 years. On the plus side, Nicholls has made no secret of the fact that he’s aimed him at the National and the gelding stayed on strongly when tackling the Aintree fences in the Becher Chase in December.
COLBERT STATION 9yo, 11st1lb, 12/1
The likely mount of multiple champion jockey Tony McCoy, for his boss, JP McManus, and one of two red-hot fancies for outspoken trainer-cum-TV-analyst Ted Walsh, father of Ruby. A hugely progressive handicapper, he was an impressive winner of the prestigious Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and acts on any ground. But he’s been whacked up 17lbs for that triumph and is very inexperienced for a race of this nature (only five outings over fences). He’s not guaranteed to stay the marathon trip either and although he tuned up nicely with a win over hurdles last time, that was off a mark of 119. He runs off 149 at Aintree.
FORPADYDEPLASTERER 11yo, 11st, 50/1
Likeable veteran chaser, who won the 2009 Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and was runner-up the following season in two more Grade One showpiece races, the Tingle Creek and the Queen Mother Champion Chase. If such statistics suggest all his best form is over the minimum trip of 2m, that is correct, so connections are clutching at straws in the hope that the National trip can restore him to winning ways after a run of just one victory since his Arkle success. Mind you, that win was over 3m in heavy ground, while his consistency (second no fewer than 13 times in 30 runs) is to be admired.
ON HIS OWN 9yo, 11st, 7/1
Although he eventually missed the race because of injury, it had to be significant that Ruby Walsh, winning jockey in 2000 and 2005, picked Willie Mullins’s son of Presenting to ride in last year’s National, ahead of the horse that went on to win, Neptune Collonges, plus the third, Seabass, and the previous year’s favourite, The Midnight Club. We found out why because, under Paul Townend, the Graham Wylie-owned gelding belied his inexperience to travel supremely well before coming down at Becher’s Brook second time. Mullins is now thirsting for compensation and to retain last year’s handicap mark, he’s given his charge only one run since -- a winning one over hurdles at Navan in February. There’s little doubt he possesses a touch of class, but he’s still not particularly streetwise and I am reluctant to forget how badly he struggled over 4m at the Cheltenham Festival two years ago when trained in England by Howard Johnson.
JONCOL 10yo, 10st13lb, 50/1
A feature of this year’s National is the number of Irish-trained chasers on comeback missions after failing to fulfil their potential. Paul Nolan’s big, strapping sort is one such contender because not long ago, he was hailed a rising star capable of progressing into a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, especially when pocketing a couple of crack Grade One races in the 2009/10 season. He’s won just once more since and has looked a one-paced disappointment for most of this season. But as a result, his handicap mark has plummetted from a peak of 163 to 147, so connections are hoping this unique race can rekindle his talent, especially as the 2007-winning jockey, Robbie Power, gets the leg-up. A surprisingly fine effort over hurdles in December suggested the spark is still there, although he might just prefer softer ground than he’ll get at Aintree.
BALTHAZAR KING 9yo, 10st12lb, 25/1
Seasoned, genuine chaser who has developed into something of a specialist in Cheltenham’s cross-country races but remains perfectly capable of good form on orthodox tracks, particularly when the ground is good or quicker. A fluent jumper, likely to be among the pacesetters, the son of King’s Theatre is trained by Philip Hobbs, who is confident of his chances at Aintree, even though he is on a career-high handicap mark. He hasn’t been out since December, but always runs well fresh.
CAPPA BLEU 11yo, 10st11lb, 12/1
Trainer Evan Williams has sent out placed horses in the Aintree National for the last four seasons, including this former prolific hunter chaser, who was fourth in the 2012 renewal, staying on late after earlier being hampered by a faller. The 11-year-old, who won the Foxhunters’ Chase at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, now gets the chance to run off 2lbs lower this time round and has been specifically prepared for the contest by Williams, who has given him just a couple of prep runs, including an eyecatching one at Ascot last time. Although he’s getting on in years, he’s raced only 11 times under Rules.
OSCAR TIME 12yo, 10st11lb, 50/1
Owned by the Waley-Cohens, of Long Run fame, this horse produced a terrific performance to finish runner-up to Ballabriggs in the 2010 National off the same handicap mark of 145 that he boasts now. Unfortunately, he has deteriorated since, running only five times, and finished stone last in his prep race last month, suggesting age has caught up with him.
ALWAYS WAINING 12yo, 10st10lb, 40/1
Extraordinary veteran who comes alive when tackling the Aintree fences, having won the Topham Chase over a shorter 2m6f trip on the second day of the National meeting for the last three years -- off handicap marks of 128, 133 and 138. Now Peter Bowen’s charge goes for the big one off 144 and aims to become the first National winner to be trained in Wales since Kirkland in 1905. He’s easily the most experienced horse in the field, this being his 62nd National Hunt start after a career on the Flat too. But his previous attempts at this sort of marathon distance have ended in failure.
QUINZ 9yo, 10st10lb, 50/1
Trained by Philip Hobbs, this French-bred was a progressive novice two seasons ago, culminating in victory in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. But connections made the big mistake of pitching him into the Grand National that same season, at the age of just seven, and it was too much for him. He was pulled up after bursting a blood vessel and has not looked the same horse since. Nevertheless he is back for another crack after a respectable performance in the same Kempton race six weeks ago.
TATENEN 9yo, 10st10lb, 100/1
So highly rated was Richard Rowe’s gelding when trained by Paul Nicholls that he was sent off 4/1 favourite for the Arkle Chase at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival. His decline has been marked, but he remains capable at his best, albeit at shorter trips than Saturday’s. He is not always a fluent jumper, though, and unseated his rider at the Canal Turn in last year’s National.
TREACLE 12yo, 10st9lb, 33/1
One of two potential runners for Irish handler Tom Taaffe (son of Arkle’s jockey Pat Taaffe), the winner of the 2009 Munster National at Limerick was quietly fancied in some quarters for last year’s Aintree version, only to come to grief early on. A consistent stayer, he’s getting on a bit now but hasn’t been over-raced and proved his wellbeing with victory at Down Royal last month.
LOST GLORY 8yo, 10st8lb, 50/1
Bred in New Zealand, a son of leading Flat sire Montjeu and one of the youngest horses in the field. Hardly a profile that screams Grand National winner. However, Jonjo O’Neill’s chaser, owned by JP McManus, has been quietly progressive this season, winning four of his last five starts. All surfaces come alike to him and he stays well. The downside is that his successes have been confined to relatively minor races, so this will be a whole new ball-game.
SAINT ARE 7yo, 10st8lb, 50/1
Not since Bogskar in 1940 has a horse as young as seven won the demanding Aintree National. Tim Vaughan’s dogged stayer has run well on three previous visits to the track -- but all have been on the Mildmay course, including a surprise 33/1 triumph in a Grade One novices’ hurdle two years ago. Adding to the negatives is his tendency to hit a few fences, as at the Cheltenham Festival last month when he ran poorly.
SWING BILL 12yo, 10st8lb, 66/1
The renowned colours of leading owner David Johnson will be carried by the David Pipe-trained grey, who got round in last year’s race, albeit finishing a distant tenth. He jumped the fences adequately again in the Becher Chase last December and remains capable of decent form, having picked up one or two nice prizes, most notably at Cheltenham. But he’s currently on the highest handicap rating of his career and performed badly at the Festival last month.
CHICAGO GREY 10yo, 10st7lb, 14/1
Few trainers are in better form at the moment than tubby Irishman Gordon Elliott, who saddled Silver Birch to win the 2007 National. He has another live candidate in this grey who has stamina coming out of his ears, as he proved when winning with ease the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival of 2011. It could be argued that he has not progressed as Elliott would have liked. Indeed he has won just one more race -- as recently as last month. But that was a Grade Two affair over an inadequate 2m4f trip and when not fully wound up. It was also significant for two more reasons -- proving the success of an operation on his wind and coming AFTER the publication of the National weights, meaning the handicapper could not alter his mark of 141, which looks attractive, considering he was rated 151 at his previous peak and 150 when unluckily brought down early on in last year’s race. His jumping can be slovenly at times but he has the magical assistance in the saddle this time of Paul Carberry, who steered Bobbyjo home in 1999.
QUISCOVER FONTAINE 9yo, 10st7lb, 50/1
The third string of champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins, who sent out Hedgehunter to win the race in 2005. A lightly-raced French-bred, who has run over fences only ten times, he was fourth in the 2011 Irish National, but has never set the world alight and fell at about halfway in the Aintree spectacular last year when well back in the field. Curiously, for a horse considered a stayer, he rarely runs beyond 2m2f.
BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE 10yo, 10st6lb, 50/1
Irish trainer Noel Glynn’s strong-travelling chaser has his third attempt at the great race after falling when fancied each/way in 2011 and then coming down at the Canal Turn last season after being hampered. He has twice run well at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing runner-up in the four-miler in 2010 and then fifth in this season’s Kim Muir. But although he generally jumps well, he rarely finds enough at the business end of races and has not won now for more than three years.
HARRY THE VIKING 8yo, 10st6lb, 40/1
One of three probable runners for champion trainer Paul Nicholls and one of two part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. But both will have to weave their magic to conjure a return to his best. He looked a stayer of genuine promise last term when reeling off a four-timer as a novice and chasing home one of Saturday’s leading fancies, Teaforthree, in the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival. But since being pulled up in the Scottish National last April, he’s shown little, including at this year’s Festival, and although he will enjoy the drying ground, his lack of experience is a major worry.
RARE BOB 11yo, 10st6lb, 25/1
There are few better combinations in racing at the moment than wily big-race trainer Dessie Hughes (father of champion Flat jockey Richard) and new riding sensation Bryan Cooper. And they team up here with an experienced campaigner who rarely wins but seldom runs a bad race, often in warm company. It is probably telling that Cooper partners this horse, rather than Forpadydeplasterer, trained by his dad. He was brought down early on in last year’s National, but generally jumps and travels well and handled these unique fences perfectly well enough in the 2011 Becher Chase. Three solid performances this season included a close fourth in a hot Grade Two affair last time (just behind one of Saturday’s rivals, Seabass) and although his stamina is not copper-bottomed for a marathon like this, the better ground should offset that.
THE RAINBOW HUNTER 9yo, 10st6lb, 66/1
It’s 23 years since Kim Bailey saddled Mr Frisk to win the National. But the trainer, who also has a Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle on his CV, will be hoping to crown his recent renaissance with victory for this nine-year-old, who is owned by a syndicate that includes Racing UK presenter Oli Bell. The gelding can be let down by shoddy jumping, but he should stay, will appreciate the ground and is over-priced, particularly on the evidence of a couple of nice performances in decent handicaps at Ascot this term.
MR MOONSHINE 9yo, 10st5lb, 66/1
Dyed-in-the-wool former winning pointer, now trained by the no-nonsense Yorkshire team of Sue Smith and ex-showjumping husband, Harvey. A gritty handicapper who is always there or thereabouts, he has yet to convince he is capable of tackling a race of this magnitude. But he has never fallen and produced a career best run at Wetherby over Christmas when runner-up to Cheltenham Gold Cup fifth, Cape Tribulation, in a Grade Three event.
MUMBLES HEAD 12yo, 10st4lb, 100/1
Peter Bowen’s ageing chaser has won £77,000 in prize money during his career, but is one of the wild outsiders in this company and is best known as a summer chaser. He rattled off a hat-trick of wins between last April and June, which shot him up the handicap to a mark he’s struggled to cope with ever since. Not seen since Christmas, he fell at the first when trying the Aintree fences in the Becher Chase in December.
PEARLYSTEPS 10yo, 10st4lb, 100/1
Lighlty-raced, thorough stayer from the Henry Daly stable who has often shaped with promise, most notably a couple of years ago when a close third behind The Giant Bolster, who has been placed in the last two Cheltenham Gold Cups. But he was a distant seventh in the Festival four-miler won by one of Saturday’s rivals, Chicago Grey, later that same year, while a disappointing prep run this February suggests he won’t have the ability to make an impact here.
AURORAS ENCORE 11yo, 10st3lb, 66/1
A one-time shart chaser who unleashed a career-best display to finish a head second in last year’s Scottish National at Ayr. That proved his aptitude for long distances, and he gets the chance to run off a handicap mark 6lbs lower on Saturday. However, Sue Smith’s gelding has been in no sort of form this season and was tailed off on his latest start.
NINETIETH MINUTE 10yo, 10st3lb, 66/1
Tom Taaffe’s son of crack jumps sire Old Vic was so good over hurdles that he landed the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009, off a handicap rating three pounds higher than his current one. However, he has never really translated that ability to fences, winning just once and falling in last season’s Irish National. He ran well enough last time when second to one of Saturday’s rivals, Treacle, but has earned the dreaded Timeform squiggle for unreliability.
TARQUINIUS 10yo, 10st2lb, 66/1
Grey longshot, formerly trained in Lambourn by Charlie Mann and now under the care of Gordon Elliott in Ireland. He’s likely to stay the trip but finds himself on a career-high handicap mark, almost a stone higher than when runner-up in the valuable Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January. He’s also been on the go all season and prefers to get his toe in, meaning the drying ground is against him.
ANY CURRENCY 10yo, 10st, 66/1
Dour stayer who was fourth in the 4m chase at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival and eighth in last season’s Scottish National. But he wears headgear and is not the most trustworthy of conveyances. Indeed he unshipped his pilot over these fences in the Becher Chase in December and was well below-par in the cross-country race at Cheltenham last month on his latest appearance.
POKER DE SIVOLA 10yo, 10st, 50/1
Few trainers are better at preparing a staying horse for a big handicap than Ferdy Murphy, who will be hoping that this talented, but lazy, challenger can return to his best form. If he can, he has a squeak because he is currently 3lbs lower than when staying on from nowhere to win the Bet365 Gold Cup (formerly the Whitbread) at Sandown two years ago. He also landed the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010 and will relish the drying ground on Saturday. The gelding has been seen only twice since Sandown -- but significantly, one of those outings was an educational spin over the Aintree fences in the Becher Chase in December.
MAJOR MALARKEY 10yo, 10st, 100/1
There aren’t many horses in this year’s National with no chance, but Nigel Twiston-Davies’s modest stayer, who has not won a race of any description since December 2010, is one of them. Although he was runner-up in last year’s Midlands National at Uttoxeter, he was pulled up in this season’s renewal after losing his action, and he unseated his rider in the 4m marathon won by one of Saturday’s rivals, Chicago Grey, at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.
BACKSTAGE 11yo, 10st, 66/1
Back Number might be a more appropriate name now for Gordon Elliott’s outsider because he shows little sign of recapturing form that made him one of the leading fancies for the 2010 National when he was going well until hampered by a loose horse and unseating his rider. Twelve months later, he got round to finish tenth, but was beaten 68 lengths and in only two runs under Rules since that day, he has been pulled up in both the 2011 Irish National and last month’s Foxhunters’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
SOLL 8yo, 10st, 40/1
Giant, long-striding former point-to-point winner who was well regarded when with crack trainer Willie Mullins last season. Now with Jo Hughes, who pitched him into a couple of hefty assignments, the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National, on his first two starts for her. He found both too demanding but did make all to win at Sandown last time and it would be no surprise to see him take to the Aintree fences, even though he would prefer softer ground and is short on staying-chase nous.
RICHARD SILVERWOOD’S TOP SIX
1 CHICAGO GREY
3 RARE BOB
4 ROBERTO GOLDBACK
5 BALTHAZAR KING