Magic Of Light can take Grand National glory for Harrington
Much focus will also be on Rachael Blackmore when she rides Minella Times
Magic Of Light (left) pushed Tiger Roll all the way last time and won’t have to deal with the 2019 winner this time. Photo: Paul Elliss/Getty Images
The sense of ‘Hamlet without the Prince’ surrounding Tiger Roll’s absence from Saturday’s Randox Aintree Grand National will be underlined should Magic Of Light win for Jessica Harington.
Magic Of Light chased home Tiger Roll when the brightest modern day National star won for a second time in 2019.
Two years later, and on the back of the pandemic forcing last year’s cancellation, Magic Of Light is back but her old rival isn’t, unwittingly embroiled in a spat between his owner, Michael O’Leary, and the British handicapper.
The Ryanair boss, who is trying for a record fourth win in the world’s most famous steeplechase, could still have an ideal understudy among his handful of runners in Farclas.
Like his illustrious stable companion, he is a former Triumph Hurdle winner and a product of Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra stables where Denise Foster is currently the woman at the helm.
Four National winners have been trained by women in the past and Harrington and Foster are among four more women trying to join them.
However, a potentially perfect result for the sport after a notably tumultuous season would be for a woman to ride the winner of racing’s greatest showpiece for a first time.
Even the acclaim that greeted Rachael Blackmore’s groundbreaking success at the Cheltenham festival would struggle for comparison should she win the National.
Since the one blip on her Cheltenham heroics was in discarding one Minella in the Gold Cup there would be a nice symmetry to it should Blackmore conquer Aintree on the JP McManus-owned Minella Times.
A race always capable of generating huge public gambles could see a groundswell of support for the pioneering jockey.
Katie Walsh’s third on Seabass in 2012 is the closest a woman has got to winning the National and Blackmore is joined this time by the English riders Bryony Frost (Yala Enki) and Tabitha Worsley (Sub Lieutenant.)
Minella Times is one of 18 Irish-trained hopefuls trying to add to 27 previous winners from this country in what is the 173rd National.
Another McManus hope, the Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now, as well as the Willie Mullins-trained Burrows Saint, are also to the forefront of the Irish challenge trying to succeed Tiger Roll.
Mullins’ son Patrick takes over from the injured Paul Townend on Burrows Saint and will try to be the first amateur jockey to win in 30 years.
However, even after unprecedented Irish superiority over their cross-channel rivals at last month’s Cheltenham festival there is near-unanimity that the horse to beat is the home hope Cloth Cap.
Tom Scudamore’s mount boasts impeccable credentials, not least that he has officially a stone in hand on official ratings on the back of a smooth victory at Kelso last time.
Should a public groundswell of support develop behind him, Cloth Cap might even become the shortest-priced National winner since Poethlyn started at 11-4 in 1919.
It would be a stark contrast to the outcome of Easter Monday’s Irish National and Freewheelin Dylan’s shock 150-1 success at Fairyhouse.
Since the Aintree National has thrown up a 100-1 winner and a 66-1 winner in the last dozen years, the chances of a similarly big-odds outcome can’t be ruled out.
That lottery element is central to its broad appeal and being the biggest betting race of the year.
However, fence alterations have changed the nature of the National in the last decade and lessened the sense of chance about it. Since Harrington has been plotting Magic Of Light’s course back to Aintree for the last two years there won’t have been a stone left unturned in her preparation.
The trainer’s emergence in recent years as a leading flat trainer means she will unveil classic prospects at Leopardstown on Sunday yet she has never hidden her National ambitions.
Considering she made a dreadful mistake at the Chair two years ago, Magic Of Light did remarkably well to run Tiger Roll as close as she did. She is similarly handicapped again and has the 2007 National winner Robbie Power on her back as she tries to become the first mare to win in 70 years.
In comparison, Farclas’ stamina is unproven while Cloth Cap’s likely odds look very tight in what is still a major challenge. The Long Mile could be an each way play. Ultimately though it may prove to be Harington in the Magic spotlight.
Aintree Grand National prediction
1. Magic Of Light 2. Farclas 3. Cloth Cap 4. The Long Mile