Is anybody there? Is everyone okay? It has been a long, long three weeks since Al Boum Photo ploughed up the hill to land the Gold Cup for Willie Mullins.
But those of us who have managed to stagger through a desolate post-Cheltenham wasteland are now being rewarded for our obdurance by a bumper Aintree Festival.
And on Saturday evening the three-day bonanza will reach its crescendo, with the 172nd running of the world’s most famous steeplechase – the Grand National.
If Cheltenham is national hunt racing’s blue-riband event, then the National is surely its most inclusive and widely popular offering.
Tens of thousands will descend upon Liverpool this weekend, with hundreds of millions more watching around the world.
And it doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned racing fan who has been scrutinising the handicap for months, or if you’ve pulled your nag out of an envelope in the office sweepstake – come Saturday, we are all at the mercy of those famous fences.
Thirty of them in total are to be negotiated by a field of 40 – one of whom will become the newest entry into jump racing’s hall of fame.
If there’s something the Grand National is never short of, it is drama and a brilliant story. Here is everything you need to know before the latest chapter in the race’s storied history is written.
What is it?
The Grand National is the world’s most famous steeplechase, run over four miles and two furlongs at Aintree, Liverpool. It’s worth a cool £1 million in prize money.
When is it?
The race takes place on Saturday April 6th, at 5.15pm.
How can I follow it?
The National has been broadcast on free-to-air television since 1960, and this year is no exception. ITV are back again after taking over the television rights in 2017, with their coverage also being shown on Virgin Media One. Coverage runs from 2pm-6.15pm.
Can I still go?
Nope! Saturday is a complete sellout at Aintree. You’ll have to make do with watching on the box – which will make you one of the 500-600 million tuning in around the world.
What is the going?
On Friday morning clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch said the track was soft but that could change by Saturday, with the forecast dry for the rest of the Festival.
The course was the target of vandals last week, who managed to drive a car on the track, but luckily the damage was only superficial.
What’s this year’s field?
The 40 runners and riders were declared on Thursday morning, with Pat Kelly's Mall Dini later being pulled out through injury, allowing Just A Par to sneak in as first reserve. The field is as now as follows:
1 Anibale Fly (AJ Martin/Barry Geraghty) 14-1
2 Valtor (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) 50-1
3 Tiger Roll (Gordon Elliott/Davy Russell) 4-1
4 Outlander (Richard Spencer/Keith Donoghue) 100-1
5 Don Poli (Philip Kirby/Patrick Mullins) 80-1
6 Go Conquer (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) 50-1
7 Mala Beach (Gordon Elliott/Jamie Codd) 66-1
8 Minella Rocco (Jonjo O’Neill/Richie McLernon) 40-1
9 Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander/Henry Brooke) 16-1
10 Pleasant Company (Willie Mullins/Paul Townend) 20-1
11 Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Tom Bellamy) 50-1
12 Dounikos (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy) 40-1
13 Rathvinden (Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh) 10-1
14 One For Arthur (Lucinda Russell/Derek Fox) 28-1
15 Rock The Kasbah (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson) 20-1
16 Warriors Tale (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) 66-1
17 Regal Encore (Anthony Honeyball/Mark Walsh) 66-1
18 Magic Of Light (Jessica Harrington/Paddy Kennedy) 66-1
19 A Toi Phil (Gordon Elliott IRE/Denis O'Regan) 66-1
20 Jury Duty (Gordon Elliott/Robbie Power) 20-1
21 Noble Endeavor (Gordon Elliott/Mark Enwright) 40-1
22 Monbeg Notorious (Gordon Elliott/Sean Bowen) 66-1
23 Ramses De Teillee (David Pipe/David Noonan) 25-1
24 Tea For Two (Jane Williams/Lizzie Kelly) 80-1
25 Mall Dini (Pat Kelly/ Sean Flanagan) 20-1 – NON-RUNNER
26 Step Back (Mark Bradstock/Nico de Boinville) 25-1
27 Ultragold (Colin Tizzard/Tom O’Brien) 66-1
28 Blow By Blow (Gordon Elliott/Andrew Ring) 100-1
29 Up For Review (Willie Mullins/Danny Williams) 40-1
30 Singlefarmpayment (Tom George/Paddy Brennan) 66-1
31 Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore) 40-1
32 Valseur Lido (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore) 66-1
33 Vintage Clouds (Sue Smith/Danny Cook) 14-1
34 General Principle (Gordon Elliott/JJ Slevin) 40-1
35 Livelovelaugh (Willie Mullins/David Mullins) 66-1
36 Walk In The Mill (Robert Walford/James Best) 25-1
37 Folsom Blue (Gordon Elliott/Luke Dempsey) 50-1
38 Captain Redbeard (Stuart Coltherd/Sam Coltherd) 50-1
39 Bless The Wings (Gordon Elliott/Robert Dunne) 100-1
40 Joe Farrell (Rebecca Curtis/Adam Wedge) 20-1
41 Just A Par (James Moffatt/) 100-1
Who won it last year?
The 2018 edition was won by the pocket rocket and people's hero Tiger Roll, who took the race for Gordon Elliott under Davy Russell – just about holding off Willie Mullins' Pleasant Company in the process. But more about the Tiger later on. . .
13, unlucky for some. . .
But perhaps not for Elliott, who has a staggering 13 runners in the race, eclipsing the previous record of 10 by Martin Pipe in 2010. Nine of those were set to wear the colours of Gigginstown, before Don Poli and Outlander were sold at auction on Thursday, with Don Poli fetching £170,000. He will now run for Philip Kirby on Saturday, while Outlander has gone to Richard Spencer.
That brings Elliott down to a measly 11 runners. . .
The great Red Rum
Red Rum is the last horse to win back-to-back runnings of the race in 1973 and 1974, and completed an unprecedented treble by winning it in 1977. Ginger McCain’s charge also finished second in 1975 and 1976 – pretty staggering numbers given the gruelling nature of the race.
Tiger on the prowl
But, there could be an heir to Red Rum’s throne lining up on Saturday, with last year’s winner Tiger Roll, mentioned above, a hot favourite to retain his crown. A nine-year-old, Tiger Roll is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner, and last month thrashed the field to retain the Cross Country Chase at a canter.
That performance has seen him earn heavy favouritism for Saturday’s race, with bookies as short as 7-2, which by National standards is incredibly skinny. Infact, the only thing not to like about Tiger Roll is his price, which is unappealing given what a lottery the race can be.
Tiger Roll might be a bigger price on the day, but if he wins could prove to be the shortest priced winner in a century.
Poethlyn (1919) at 11-4
Huntsman (1862) at 3-1
Roquefort (1885) at 100-30
What about the rest of the Irish challenge?
Out of the 40 runners, 19 are trained in Ireland. As mentioned, Elliott has 11 of those – here is the full breakdown:
Gordon Elliott - 11
Willie Mullins - 4
Pat Kelly - 1 *Mall Dini N/R
AJ Martin - 1
Jessica Harrington - 1
Henry de Bromhead - 1
So should I expect an Irish winner?
Not neccessarily. Since the turn of the millennium, there have been eight Irish winners. Elliott trained two of those, Silver Birch in 2007 and Tiger Roll in 2018.
What about a woman winner?
It was a brilliant Cheltenham Festival for women jockeys, with memorable victories for Rachael Blackmore (A Plus Tard, Minella Indo), Lizzie Kelly (Siruh Du Lac) and Bryony Frost (Frodon). The former two have got rides in the National - Blackmore on Valseur Lido, Kelly on Tea For Two – although Frost misses out through injury.
There has never been a woman jockey to win the race, but four trainers have done so – Jenny Pitman (Corbiere 1983, Royal Athlete 1995), Venetia Williams (Mon Mome 2009), Sue Smith (Auroras Encore, 2013) and Lucinda Russell (One For Arthur, 2017).
Who should I back?
With 40 runners crashing their way over 30 fences on two laps of the track, picking a horse who finishes the race, let alone wins it, is an achievement. But here are three horses at varying prices who could be worth siding with.
1 Anibale Fly
The defection of Bristol De Mai to Thursday's Aintree Bowl means Anibale Fly will have to defy top weight in order to secure victory, but Tony Martin's nine-year-old could well have the class to do so. He finished fourth in last year's race under a patient ride from Barry Geraghty, and recently ran a strong second to Al Boum Photo in last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup. Providing that hasn't take too much out of him, he has clear claims of at least making the frame. Oddschecker best price: 14-1
25 Mall Dini - Non-runner
The elusive Galway trainer Pat Kelly only has a small stable but is renowned for getting his horses prepped for the big day. He has been patient with Mall Dini – named after the footballer Paulo – who won the 2016 Pertemps Final at Cheltenham before finishing fifth and an agonising second in the 2017 and 2018 Kim Muir Challenge Cups at the Festival. However, this year it was not to be as Mall Dini was pulled out of the race on Thursday afternoon due to injury.
5 Don Poli
To say Don Poli has gone off the boil in recent seasons would be an understatement – if anything the 10-year-old has disappeared off the face of the earth. So much so Gigginstown put him up for sale at auction at Aintree on Thursday, at which he fetched £170,000. His last victory came in the 2015 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, which was followed by a third-placed finish in the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup a few months later. However, the 2015 RSA Chase winner could be classy on his day, and if he can rediscover some of his old spark and get into a rhythm he could plod his way into a place on Saturday. Granted, he hasn't looked interested for a while but this race has been a long-term target and with Patrick Mullins on board he is available at a huge price. Oddschecker best price: 100-1
What’s the weather forecast?
Saturday is set to be cloudy but dry at Aintree, with temperatures around 12 degrees.
Well, it’s definitely more fun than the lottery. . .
If I back every single Elliott horse, I’ve got a 27.5 per cent chance of picking the winner!