Seeyouatmidnight might get there before the rest in Grand National
Katie Walsh aims to create history by becoming first female winner on Baie Des Iles
Seeyouatmidnight: the proven mudlark can deliver glory for Scotland again in the Grand National at Aintree. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Even the most potentially gruelling Randox Aintree Grand National for years won’t take more than a dozen minutes to run although for punters it could really be a case of Seeyouatmidnight.
There appears to be a lot to recommend about the chances of the horse of the same name who could become the second Scottish-trained horse in a row to win the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Seeyouatmidnight has proven stamina. He likes mud. He has less than 11 stone to carry and in Co Armagh-born rider Brian Hughes one of the most successful cross-channel-based jockeys around. As a logical National case goes it’s impressive.
However ever since the appropriately named Lottery became the first – and still slowest – winner of the great race in 1839, much of the National’s appeal has been in its resistance to logic.
Never have the biggest fences in racing been mastered better than by the diminutive legend that was Red Rum. Foinavan required circumstance beyond compare to win but it happened. Devon Loch required the same to lose. And the romance of Aldaniti’s victory still seems almost operatic.
Rarely though has the National seemed as random as it did in 2001 when Red Marauder ploughed through a bog to beat just three other finishers, two of which had been remounted.
Time has only magnified doubts as to how edifying a spectacle it proved to be even though all horses and jockey returned unscathed.
But the National’s status as racing’s ultimate shop-window invariably means a welfare spotlight too and one outcome of the 2001 race was that horses can’t be remounted anymore.
It did however look to back up the traditional view that testing conditions turns the National into even more of a lottery. And since most of the famous course is predicted to be heavy on Saturday that view will be to the forefront of many minds come 5.15.
Much more predictable on the back of another season largely dominated by the Willie Mullins-Gordon Elliott axis is that Ireland’s twin training titans will be represented by three runners each.
Elliott’s Tiger Roll and Mullins’s Total Recall are among the favourites, along with JP McManus’s Gold Cup third, Anibale Fly, and the prime home hope, Blaklion.
Michael O’Leary won the National two years ago with Rule The World and late defections mean two of the Ryanair boss’s reserves – Road To Riches and Thunder And Roses – get promoted to make up a five-strong Gigginstown Stud team.
Tiger Roll looks O’Leary’s clear No.1 although the triple-Cheltenham festival winner is wilful enough to either thrive on Aintree’s unique challenge or quickly decide it isn’t for him. How he’s going on the run down to Bechers first time will tell a lot.
However, despite the game’s big guns being well represented among the 16 horses bidding to become the 17th Irish-trained winner since 1900, the National’s reputation for providing unlikely and impossibly romantic storylines looks intact.
Almost certainly the best outcome for the sport overall will be if a woman manages to ride the winner for the first time.
It’s 30 years since the last time three women lined up for the National. Rachael Blackmore rides one of the O’Leary hopes, Alpha Des Obeaux.
The 23-year-old Englishwoman Bryony Frost has been one of the stories of the cross-channel season and could put a perfect full-stop to it here. Frost will try to emulate her father, Jimmy, a National winner on Little Polvier in 1989, on board Milansbar.
However it is the prospect of Katie Walsh teaming up with Baie Des Iles, trained by her husband, Ross O’Sullivan, which looks to have really captured the public imagination.
That is partly to do with Walsh herself. The woman who came closest of all to history when third on Seabass in 2012 is a hugely popular figure. The idea of a National winner emerging from such a family background is reassuring too for many jump fans. Even Baie Des Iles’ grey colour appeals.
It is more hard-headed reasons though which have forced her price down all week. This is a mare loaded with stamina who thrives on very soft ground. It’s easy to make a logical case for why Walsh and Baie Des Iles can make history with a victory that would resonate around the world.
The impact of such a win on a betting industry predicting up to €25 million on the race in Ireland alone would be significant although dwarfed by the long-term beneficial impact for the sport in general.
The potential impact of ground conditions could also produce a general ‘feel-good factor’ if the veteran Raz de Maree was to win. He is one of a trio of veteran 13 year olds and it is 95 years since the last horse in that age-group won.
Conditions could ultimately put a premium on grizzled experience and JP McManus’s No. 2 hope, Carlingford Lough, might provide some betting value at a big price. The 12 year old was a proven Grade One performer in his pomp and has dropped down the handicap since.
Only one horse trained in Scotland had ever won the National before One For Arthur scored last year. Trends-wise it’s hard to be confident about the Sandy Thomson-trained Seeyouatmidnight proving the old adage about two buses coming at once.
But this is the National. And when it comes to the National stranger things really have happened.
1: Seeyouatmidnight 2: Baie Des Iles 3: Carlingford Lough 4: Raz de Maree