AINTREE, United Kingdom (AFP) – The Grand National will take place in an eerie atmosphere without spectators on Saturday due to coronavirus protocols after last year’s renewal was cancelled due to the pandemic.
The world-famous steeplechase’s winner has a habit of having a back story to match the achievement of conquering 30 fences. Although modified for welfare reasons, the fences are still fearsome compared to the usual fare that the 40 runners face.
Here AFP Sport picks out four runners that could provide a fairy tale story: Cloth Cap
The warm favourite’s jockey Tom Scudamore has the chance to emulate his grandfather Michael, who rode Oxo to victory in 1959.
Scudamore’s father Peter was crowned champion jockey eight times but the great race eluded him.
Tom will be bidding to win the race on his 19th attempt. The closest he has finished is sixth with Vieux Lion Rouge in 2017.
Cloth Cap represents probably his best chance yet and would give 85-year-old owner Trevor Hemmings his fourth win in the race.
Cloth Cap — trained by Jonjo O’Neill, another former great jockey never to win the race — is named after Hemmings’s favoured headwear.
“It is something that will always be associated with grandfather and for all that dad and I have achieved, there was always the fact that Michael Scudamore had won the Grand National,” said Tom.
“So he always put us in the shade a bit.”
He will hope to emerge from the shade come Saturday.
Minella Times Rachael Blackmore gave the sport just the positive headlines it yearned for when she became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle last month on Honeysuckle, on her way to being crowned leading jockey of the Festival with six victories.
However, those headlines will pale in comparison if the 31-year-old Irish jockey rides Minella Times to victory on Saturday and becomes the first woman rider to win the National.
Katie Walsh came closest when third on Seabass in 2012, whilst the Grand National represents the best opportunity for Blackmore whose previous two rides saw her fall in 2018 and finish 10th in 2019.
Given she is riding and the trainer is Henry de Bromhead, who became the first to achieve the ‘Holy Trinity’ at Cheltenham (the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Gold Cup), Minella Times could rival Cloth Cap for favourite by the time they set off.
“I think when you’re riding in the National, I think you allow yourself to picture yourself winning it and I think everyone has,” she told thejockeyclub.co.uk.
“I feel like the feeling of it actually happening is completely different to what you can imagine in your brain.”
Potters Corner The defending champion returns, bidding to win it for real this time and not the virtual version of last year.
Part-owned by Welsh rugby great Jonathan Davies he would be only the second Welsh-trained winner, the previous one being Kirkland in 1905.
Potters Corner is one for breaking long droughts as in 2019 he became the first Welsh-trained winner of the Welsh Grand National since 1965.
He also added the 2019 Midlands National for good measure the same day that Davies celebrated landing the Six Nations Grand Slam.
“It was a double bubble,” grinned Davies.
His trainer Christian Williams came close to winning the race as a jockey, finishing second on Royal Auclair in 2005.
“It has been a hell of a journey, we have been so lucky with him and to be trained in Wales by a Welshman it is exciting,” said Davies.
Ami Desbois Dr Richard Newland trained the winner of the 2014 National Pineau de Re but he had already retired from the medical profession.
Ami Desbois’s trainer, though, is a successful barrister, Graeme McPherson, who specialises in sports law.
“My wife is a judge and she’s also an international triathlete, so pity our poor kids!” said McPherson.
He has had a successful season accruing over £100,000 ($137,500) in prize money even if he is unable to be on course the whole time due to his legal commitments.
Ami Desbois is an outsider but McPherson thinks he will be suited by the fences.
“If he jumps all 30 fences and comes home safe, I will be delighted. Anything more than that really will be a fairy tale!” said McPherson.