Arguably classed as the world’s greatest steeplechase – not to mention the single largest betting event in the UK – this coming weekend sees the 163rd Grand National played out over the famous four mile, four furlong jump course situated in Aintree, Liverpool. An incredibly successful hunting ground for the Irish contingent over the years, a raft of the emerald isle’s foremost equine ambassadors are set to make the short pilgrimage across the Irish Sea to pit their wits against the rest of a traditionally strong field lining up for the most important 30 fence handicap chase of the racing calendar; the highlight of the four day Aintree Festival.
What’s more, with the John Smith’s Grand National week now upon us, this is when the serious online betting picks up the pace as the excitement around the big race edges toward fever pitch, ahead of Saturday’s showdown. This is precisely the juncture where more structured betting patterns begin to emerge as rumours and gossip-mongering transpiring from sources as diverse as seasoned punters, stable hands, well-versed pundits and the bloke down-the-pub-who-knows-a-bloke-who-knows-a-trainer weigh in with their predictions, that spark a chain reaction of tittle-tattle.
And hardly an exception to the Aintree rule, the main talking point appears to be centering around an Irish entry once again; specifically the dramatic odds-shortening in recent days on the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner – and blast from the past – War of Attrition. Owned by budget airline Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, War of Attrition starting the previous week at the 33-1 mark, yet a heavy surge of online betting has latterly resulted in the ‘Mouse Morris trained horses’ new price settling around the 14-1 mark.
Quite whether the speculation as to War of Attritions’ potential is founded or not remains to be seen, as critics would suggest that the 10 year olds best form is behind him, and since the Gold Cup win back in 2006, he’s been hampered by injuries. And that’s before you figure in the fact that War of Attritions’ last outing literally saw him left for dust by Exotic Dancer, with cynics additionally claiming that he’s perhaps carrying a little too much extra poundage.
Irrespective of War of Attrition’s best efforts, Irish eyes (as well as all you online betting folk) will as usual have a cornucopia of home grown and/or trained equine subjects to feast on, with horses from the emerald isle often seen as a safe each way bet to punters on either side of the water. Such is the traditional prevalence of Irish horses; online bookmakers offer an uninspiring 2-1 price (on average) in exchange for wagering whether or not the ‘winner to be trained in Ireland’. Which, bearing in mind six of the last 10 Grand National champs have cut their teeth over there in terms of training regimes, is considered a risk not worth taking to the minds of the gambling establishment, with this year 25 Irish contenders making the grade.
Bobbyjo in 1999, Papillon in 2000, Monty’s Pass in 2003, Hedgehunter in 2005, Numbersixvalverde in 2006 and Silverbirch in 2007 are all testament to the dearth of talent that travels so well across the Irish Sea come this time of year. Whilst they were all trained in Ireland, there are however a large number of Irish horses making the journey to Aintree from elsewhere across mainland Britain, albeit of Irish lineage.
Black Apalachi, Snowy Morning, Hear The Echo, Southern Vic, State Of Play, Cloudy Lane and Chelsea Harbour are amongst many Irish challengers who’ll be looking to get their noses ahead of the field on Saturday afternoon, although the candidate with the best chance of coming out on top remains Rambling Minster who posted an impressive display in front of the cameras during the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock Park as recently as February 14th.
Brilliant track from the legendary singer/songwriter.