Bonus blog – My beloved Aintree by Cathryn Fry – Grand National Preview

The Grand National, the people’s race. An extraordinary test of jumping, stamina and courage. From Lottery winning the inaugural running of the race in 1859 to the famous victory of AP McCoy and Don’t Push It last year, the race tells some remarkable stories that even the most gifted script writer would struggle to concoct! Its 4 miles and 4 furlongs of unbridled adrenaline, exhilaration, agony and ecstasy; there is always a story behind the National….

The most likely candidates for glory in 2011 are:

The Midnight Club (10 10-13) Currently heading the market at 8/1 with Paddy Power and fully deserves his place there. This race has been a long term target for him. Ruby Walsh takes the ride. Last seen out in February winning the Grade Two Bobby Jo Chase at Fairyhouse by a length from Arbor Supreme, that was over 3m1f in heavy ground. He has twice caught my eye running into the placings at the 2009 and 2010 Cheltenham Festival. In 2009 he was third behind Weapons Amnesty in the Albert Bartlett and was a staying on third in the 2010 Jewson behind Copper Bleu. Everything is seemingly perfect; age, weight, jockey, trainer, ability to stay and he seems versatile with regards to the ground. The only unknown factor is the Aintree fences but I wouldn’t be too concerned about that.

Backstage (9 10-12) 11/1 with Paddy Power. Unseated Davy Condon in last year’s race but that can be excused as he was hampered by a loose horse when still in contention at the 20th fence. Has been freshened up by two victories in point to points in Ireland, winning by ten lengths and seven lengths respectively. Hails from the stable of Gordon Elliott who won the race in 2007 with Silver Birch after campaigning him in Cross Country races and a point to point after the horse left Paul Nicholls. This fellow is serious, and looks set to run a huge race.

Oscar Time (10 10-9) 12/1 with Paddy Power. The mount of Gold Cup winning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen and trained by Martin Lynch. Has some excellent pieces of form; was third to The Midnight Club in the Bobby Jo Chase in February and last year came second to Bluesea Cracker in the Irish National. Was bought by the Waley-Cohens as a National prospect and Sam rides the Aintree fences very well indeed and could join the list of jockeys to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season. The last time that happened was in 2002 with Jim Culloty winning on Bindaree after victory on Best Mate in the Gold Cup. The last Amateur to win the race was Marcus Armytage on Mr Frisk in 1990.

What a Friend (8 11-6) 11/1 with Paddy Power. No question this horse is top class and ran an absolute blinder in headgear to finish fourth last month in the most exciting Gold Cup we had seen for years. Won the Grade One Totesport Bowl at last year’s Grand National Meeting. However, The Grand National is a different proposition all together and with his quirks and head carriage I personally feel he will struggle, I hope he doesn’t and I hope that he will do a “Long Run” and make me eat my words in my Grand National review! 11-6 is a big ask, but Don’t Push It carried 11-5 last year and the second horse home Black Apalachi carried 11-6.

Ballabriggs (10 11-0) 14/1 with Paddy Power. The ante-post favourite for the National for most of the early season. He Won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival. Was campaigned over hurdles before the weights were framed to help preserve his handicap mark and won two out of two. He was then defeated by Skippers Brig at Kelso on his only Chase start this term. I’m unsure as to why there has been such a lack of faith in him, as there was absolutely no disgrace in his 1 ¾ length second to Skippers Brig. He was headed in the last 150 yards and still ran on well. The 14/1 is too big and I’m sure that on the day he will start a lot shorter.

Big Fella Thanks (9 11-1) 12/1 with Paddy Power. Finished 6th in 2009 and 4th in 2010, since then it’s been all change. Now trained by Ferdy Murphy and in the last month he has acquired new owners. Really hasn’t been asked too many serious questions this term. He has recently been placed fourth twice in Grade One and Grade Three company respectively. We know he jumps the fences and this could well be his year to shine. This horse is my idea of the leading English challenger.

Don’t Push It (11 11-10) 14/1 with Paddy Power. A wonderful winner of the 2010 renewal, giving AP McCoy his much coveted victory in the race. Has been campaigned solely with this race in mind. 11-10 is a huge burden to carry but it would be no surprise to see him run well and into the placings. If he’s bang there at the last, Liverpool will explode once again!

Niche Market (10 10-13) 14/1 with Paddy Power. Winner of the Irish National in 2009. Pulled up in last year’s National after a blunder had effectively ruled out any chance. Finished fifth to Diamond Harry in the Hennessy in November. Personally I think the horse is as short as 14/1 due to the Paul Nicholls factor. Right age and weight but may find one or two too good.

Quinz (7 10-8) 16/1 with Paddy Power. In fantastic form this season, game winner of the Racing Post Chase last time out. Clearly a very exciting prospect but competing in the National as a novice is asking an awful lot. It’s understandable why connections have been tempted with the featherweight he is carrying. Personally I would like to see him in the 2012 National but he will never be this well treated again.

Bluesea Cracker (9 10-4) 16/1 with Paddy Power. Has recently been purchased by JP McManus. Won the Irish National in 2010. Finished 4th to Midnight Chase at Cheltenham in November and 6th to The Midnight Club at Fairyhouse in February. A lovely light weight to carry and I honestly think we will see this mare in the shake up.

State of Play (11 10-6) 20/1 with Paddy Power. On a dangerously low weight having finished 4th and 3rd in the last two Nationals! Hasn’t run since his 20 length third to Don’t Push It last year. A former Charlie Hall and Hennessy winner that you can’t discount. Has never fallen in his entire career.

Hello Bud (13 10-5) 25/1 with Paddy Power. Eats the Aintree fences and gave Sam Twiston-Davies a fantastic spin to finish 5th in last year’s race. Won the Becher Chase over the National fences in November. Winner of the Scottish National in 2009. He is a teenager but expect him bang there jumping for fun.

Silver by Nature (9 10-12) 16/1 with Paddy Power. He does have Grand National written all over him and if by some miracle the National is run on soft ground this fellow comes right into the reckoning. Twice a winner of the Grand National Trial at Haydock. Bidding to become the first grey to win since Nicolaus Silver in 1961 and will bring the house down if he does.

Majestic Concorde (8 11-5) 33/1 with Paddy Power. Perhaps the liveliest outsider. Has mixed both codes and came fourth in last year’s Chester Cup. Third in the Galway Plate at the Galway Festival. Won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in December beating Becauseicouldntsee who also heads to Aintree. He is all class and Bindaree won as an eight year old. The 33/1 is huge.

So good luck, savour those ten minutes on Saturday 9 April when the whole world tunes into our game for a small moment in time. That one moment may ignite a new passion in someone and in turn recruit another member to this amazing way of life.

Cathryn Fry, @CathrynFry, 3 April 2011