THERE is nowhere on this planet I’d rather be than at Aintree today.
For those who don’t know, Grand National Day is here. It is spectacular, historic, heroic — and much, much more.
It’s the day this proud nation of ours goes racing. All over the country families will be brought together to pick a runner, have a flutter and then watch the thrills and spills unfold.
With any luck, some of you may even win some money.
The Grand National is a one-off. There’s just nothing like it.
From the moment the 40 runners and riders mill around at the start, the excitement mounts. Then the starting tape goes up and we have that intoxicating mixture of fascination, thrill and danger. Yes, danger.
Because while the fences may not be what they once were, there are still 30 of them over nearly four and a half miles.
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So rest assured this is a race that still takes some winning, pushing man, woman and the horses who love to race to their utmost limits.
The tape is due to ping back at 5.15pm to the roar of a rocking Liverpool crowd itching to ‘Twist and Shout’.
Then 160 hooves will thunder off to the first fence, with the crack of the odd whip as riders jostle for an early position. Becher’s Brook, the Canal Turn and The Chair await, as does a place in racing history.
The roll of honour includes the likes of 100-1 shot Foinavon and Ginger McCain’s legendary triple hero Red Rum. Think also of Josh Gifford’s Aldaniti ridden by cancer-battler Bob Champion. And, more recently, Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times.
It’s not always the winner who takes centre stage either.
Grand National folklore includes Devon Loch coming down on the run-in for the Queen Mother in 1956 to hand victory to E.S.B — and also Crisp’s late cruncher by Red Rum in 50 years to this day.
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The big question is, of course, who will be the heroes this afternoon? We all know it is a lottery — but that’s one of the reasons we love the race the most.
Here is my 1-2-3-4.
1. DELTA WORK. Third in 2022 behind Noble Yeats and now rated 1lb lower on 159. He’s a similar type to dual winner Tiger Roll in being a Grade 1 horse who has come through the X-Country ranks.
Delta Work was a gutsy and brilliant winner at Cheltenham last time out. Has every chance of being a hero under Keith Donoghue for three-time National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott.
2. LONGHOUSE POET. I had him to do well last year when he faded into sixth behind Noble Yeats.
My fancy was back in great form last time at Down Royal and this year’s renewal might not be quite as good as 2022. Martin Brassil’s runner is on the same mark again of 155 and appeared to jump well over these fences. JJ Slevin is a solid jock.
3. THE BIG DOG. This lad’s a giant of a chaser who stays well.
Yes, he fell when last seen at Leopardstown in Grade 1 company but he is usually a good jumper and is a Troytown winner in Ireland.
Peter Fahey’s ace looks to have a stiff handicap mark but he’s got an each-way chance if he enjoys the place and might just surprise a few people. Aidan Coleman rides.
4. NOBLE YEATS. He is up 19lb from when landing the great prize last year as a 50-1 no-hoper. But he proved that was no fluke by landing a Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase here and finishing a staying- on fourth to Galopin des Champs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It won’t be easy under 11st 11lb but, if he likes the fences the second time around, he’s got the class to get involved again under Sean Bowen for Emmet Mullins.
So they are my four against the field but, as always, it looks wide open and you could make a case for at least a dozen more!
Yes, the day is all about the world’s greatest race . . . but there is some top-class supporting action to whet our appetites before the main course.
It kicks off with the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase over two miles and it is very easy to think JONBON is an absolute good thing here for Nicky Henderson.
I’m surprised he hasn’t been stepped up in trip this week but the Arkle runner-up should be far too good for this lot.
Matt Chapman’s Saturday ITV Racing tips
2.25 Mill Green
3.00 Springwell Bay
3.35 Flooring Porter
4.15 Nassalam each-way
5.15 Delta Work
6.15 Esprit Du Potier
MILL GREEN (2.25) is my fancy to win the handicap hurdle over three miles for Hendo again.
Up just 1lb for his third behind reopposing Good Time Jonny at Cheltenham, my hope should be better suited to this tighter track.
He ran well at this fixture last year and, while he’s got nothing in hand on ratings, he should give us a fabulous run.
It’s back to Grade 1 company for the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
Hermes Allen needs to bounce back so I’ll chance SPRINGWELL BAY (3.00) for Jonjo O’Neill senior and junior.
The six-year-old has always shown promise and comes into this on the back of two decent victories at Ascot and Wetherby.
Top-class action again with the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle over an extended three miles. FLOORING PORTER (3.35) can get an uncontested lead and I’ll be surprised if anyone can pick him up under Danny Mullins for Gavin Cromwell.
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In the handicap chase over three miles and a furlong chance NASSALAM (4.15) each-way for Gary Moore and son Jamie while, for those still going after the big one, the closing Bumper might fall to ESPRIT DU POTIER (6.15).
Good luck to everyone today — and Yeeehaaa!
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