The memory of Red Rum is never far away from any Grand National and it will be evoked today in particular for Many Clouds, who will attempt to be the first since ‘Rummy’ to win the world’s most famous steeplechase back-to-back.
However, it is last year’s runner up, Saint Are, who could ultimately prove to be the one whirring memories back four decades to the ultimate Aintree legend, come 5.30pm tomorrow evening.
By then, after a late start-time to maximise an estimated 600 million worldwide TV audience, the outcome of racing’s greatest shop-window event will seem to have been entirely predictable. However, it is the National’s continuing lottery allure that continues to define it.
Despite large-scale fence modifications which have forever altered the nature of the challenge, the National’s capacity to surprise remains intact, with a 66-1, a 33-1 and a pair of 25-1 winners in the past four years.
It might be presumptive, then, to expect the 2015 principals to again dominate the finish, but both Many Clouds and Saint Are arrive back at Aintree with realistic hopes of fighting it out, except this time, perhaps, in different order.
Many Clouds’ chance is obvious enough to have had him dominating the ante-post betting despite topweight, and potentially securing an unprecedented hat-trick of National victories for his Kildare-born jockey Leighton Aspell, who also won in 2014 on Pineau De Re.
Red Rum was the last to score in back-to-back Nationals, in 1973-74, on the latter occasion off topweight too.
Many Clouds has had his entire season targeted at defending his title and looks sure to be a major player again. He had less than two lengths in hand of Saint Are at the end of last year’s race.
The last horse to finish runner up and then go one better in the National was – no surprise – Red Rum, who was second in both 1975 and ’76, before that epic 1977 success which sealed his reputation as the ultimate National hero.
Saint Are is more than twice Many Clouds' odds in many lists but he has a 2lb swing in the weights, sneaks in at the bottom of the handicap, and, more importantly, his in-form trainer, Tom George, believes he is more familiar with the nuances of a horse he only received last year.
The Gloucestershire trainer was stunned to find Saint Are comparatively fresh just a day after last year’s race.
He has carefully planned his return to Liverpool and will be keeping his fingers crossed that forecast rain isn’t too heavy.
Saint Are will again be ridden by Paddy Brennan. The Galway-born jockey has rather publicly beaten himself up over Cue Card's Gold Cup fall last month but Brennan remains a rider to note on the big day, and he too will know his National mount a lot better this time.
It is nine years since the last Irish-trained National winner and 13 raiders line up this time, including four from Willie Mullins, whose tussle with Paul Nicholls for the British trainers' title could be decisively swayed either way by the National result.
After a couple of days fighting a big-race rearguard action against the Irishman, Nicholls looks to hold better National claims, with half a dozen horses headed by Silviniaco Conti.
A double-King George winner lining up in the race, and not even being topweight, testifies to this National being possibly the classiest renewal in its long history.
Silviniaco Conti has never fired at Cheltenham in the past but this flat course and test of stamina should play to his strengths.
Jim Dreaper’s Aintree experience predates even Red Rum’s: the Co Dublin trainer finished runner as a jockey in 1972, and should he finally land the race that eluded even his father, who trained Arkle, with Gonnyella, it would be hugely popular.
The more rain that falls, the better for Gonnyella, while less will be more for Saint Are’s chance.
It’s still toss of the coin stuff when it comes to the National. But it could be worth betting it falls in Saint Are’s favour this time.