The Grand National is the world’s most famous steeplechase in horse racing watched by hundreds of millions around the globe.
As the ultimate test of stamina and endurance for thoroughbred National Hunt horses, unique fences jumped at Aintree racecourse near Liverpool, England aren’t easy to take to.
Ahead of the 2019 Grand National, here are four horses to follow on the road to this huge race.
County Meath trainer Gordon Elliott landed the spoils 12 months ago when Tiger Roll completed a big race Cheltenham Festival and Aintree double. Don’t be put off if last year’s winner fails to fire until springtime as the Gigginstown House Stud owned eight-year-old tends to bring his A game once the winter ground is out the way.
No horse has won back-to-back renewals of the Grand National since the iconic Red Rum in the 1970s, so connections have their work cut out for them. Tiger Roll is still relatively young, however, and is ante post favourite with bookmakers at 20/1 to follow-up with more Aintree glory.
Top Irish handler Willie Mullins’ Punchestown Gold Cup hero Bellshill has suffered two narrow defeats on Merseyside in a bumper and a Grade 1 novice hurdle for stayers in previous years but has really come into his own since switching to fences. This eight-year-old is owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie and has won four of his seven chase starts.
Bellshill’s defeats have come to subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite in the 2017 RSA Chase and just a length in the 2018 Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse when he was fourth past the post but disqualified and demoted a place. He is prominent in the ante post horse racing betting on the English equivalent off the back of these exploits at 25/1.
The horse that just headed Bellshill on the line in the 2016 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree was Ballyoptic. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, who like Elliott has saddled two previous Grand National winners, the eight-year-old put a poor 2016-17 season behind him when winning his first start over fences last term.
Ballyoptic’s Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase victory and subsequent RSA Chase fourth behind Presenting Percy, who is already well-fancied for the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup, put him spot on for a crack at the Scottish Grand National at Ayr this past April where he was just denied by a nose. That is all top form and he should go close if returning to Aintree at a top-price 33/1.
Mark Bradstock may be a small-time trainer compared to some of the big National Hunt names attached to the above horses but is no stranger to big race success. He was responsible for Coneygree – the first novice chaser in a generation to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This yard also has bet365 Gold Cup hero Step Back, who bolted up in that hot Sandown handicap chase at the end of last season when making most. Different tactics may be required to win at Aintree, but this eight-year-old is still very unexposed after just four starts over fences (having always finished in the first three) and is another British contender to consider at 33/1.