The world’s greatest steeplechase will take place in front of empty grandstands this afternoon for the first and hopefully only time in its history.
The Randox Grand National is the natural highlight of the final day of Aintree’s three-day spring meeting – a card which also plays host to three Grade One contests, but was lost last year to the coronavirus pandemic.
And even though only participants, owners and essential personnel will be on track, the one race of the year that really captures the imagination of the wider public is back.
Before the main event, potential stars of the future will do battle in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, while Arkle Chase winner Shishkin undoubtedly takes centre stage in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase.
The Ryanair Stayers Hurdle also promises to be a fascinating affair, with familiar rivals Paisley Park and Thyme Hill meeting again after their Cheltenham Festival clash was scuppered by a setback for the latter.
Then it is the big one, as the afternoon climaxes with the National, where Cloth Cap heads a field of 40 for the famed Aintree marathon and is set to head to the famous start as one of the shortest-priced National runners ever.
Can Ballyadam bounce back?
Ballyadam was well-beaten when taking on Appreciate It in the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but his nemesis is not in the picture this time as he lines up in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle. My Drogo, the mount of title-chasing jockey Harry Skelton, seems to be his chief rival, but Ronan McNally’s Dreal Deal is on a steep upward trajectory that is yet to reach a plateau.
Shishkin set to shine
Shishkin was unchallenged when taking the Arkle at Cheltenham, happily seeing off the likes of Allmankind and Eldorado Allen. Neither will oppose him in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase, with Philip Hobbs’ Gumball looking to be his most worthy rival out of the small field of five contenders. The race seems to be his for the taking.
Paisley and Thyme meet again
Thyme Hill was ruled out of the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham due to a minor muscle strain, but he is back in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle. He will cross paths with his old foe Paisley Park, who was third in the Cheltenham contest behind Flooring Porter and Sire Du Berlais. The two have met twice before this season, with Thyme Hill coming out on top in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle before Paisley Park exacted his revenge in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Also in the mix is Dan Skelton’s Roksana, who was third behind the big two at Ascot.
Can Cloth Cap be topped?
Jonjo O’Neill’s Cloth Cap is the red-hot favourite for National glory, but 39 other runners, 30 fences and four and a quarter miles stand in his way. Burrows Saint, Discorama, Any Second Now and Minella Times – the mount of Rachael Blackmore – are bidding to continue the Irish dominance witnessed at the Festival, while Welsh hopes are represented by Potters Corner and the English attack is bolstered by Tom Lacey’s out-and-out stayer Kimberlite Candy.