Ted Walsh has already tasted Randox Grand National glory with Papillon – and while he feels this year’s contender Any Second Now compares favourably, he is very wary of the threat posed by favourite Cloth Cap.
Walsh and his son Ruby teamed up to win the 2000 Grand National – and despite the Champion Hurdles and Gold Cups the great jockey went on to win, on his retirement he still hailed Papillon’s triumph as his favourite memory.
Walsh senior also trained Seabass to finish third in the National in 2012, ridden by his daughter Katie, so there is no doubt he knows what is required – and Any Second Now has enjoyed a similar preparation, winning a Grade Two over two miles last time out.
“He’s going there with a good chance if you get the luck that you need to win a National,” said Walsh.
“He has a nice weight, hasn’t had too much racing and had a good run the last day.
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“If he jumps a clear round and doesn’t get interfered with then he has a chance. You want plenty of luck.
“He’s similar to Papillon and Seabass in that they were able to win over two miles as well, and get a trip. He’s not as good a jumper as those two, but they were exceptional jumpers.
“I think the favourite will be very hard to beat. He stays and he jumps – he was a good winner in Newbury and he’s 14lb well-in.”
After dominating Cheltenham, the Irish team is strong in numbers and quality on Saturday too.
Willie Mullins fields four – with Acapella Bourgeois, Cabaret Queen and Class Conti joining 2019 Irish National winner Burrows Saint, who now has Patrick Mullins replacing the injured Paul Townend.
“On the stats it was probably a good thing missing the race last year as a seven-year-old,” jockey Mullins said of Burrows Saint.
“I don’t think a seven-year-old has won the National since the 1940s, so it might have been a blessing in disguise.
“He’s still relatively unexposed, and I think he ticks a lot of the boxes.
“Everything has gone pretty much to plan this season. He had a couple of runs over hurdles and a good run in the Bobbyjo.
“I think better ground will bring about more improvement.”
Mullins also doubles up as assistant trainer and said of his father’s other runners: “Acapella is in great form, and Danny (Mullins) gets on very well with him.
“He beat Burrows Saint in the Bobbyjo, so where one is the other shouldn’t be far away. But I suppose Burrows Saint will probably improve more for the better ground, so that might swap the placings there.
“He’s a horse who’s a little bit older as an 11-year-old and probably a bit more exposed, but he has a nice racing weight.
“Class Conti has to have a little squeak of getting placed. I suppose the worry with him is whether he’ll be able to lie up with the early pace, but he’s a safe jumper and will like the ground.
“Cabaret Queen has won a National in Listowel and a couple of good handicap chases. Her form has tapered off a little bit, but I think the drier ground will suit her well. There’s worse long shots than her.”
Nicky Henderson has famously never won the race, and relies on Ok Corral this time.
“He was all teed up for last year’s Grand National, and I was really looking forward to it, I must admit – I thought he was one of our more realistic chances in recent years,” said Henderson.
“It hasn’t been such an easy preparation this year. To be fair, he wasn’t quite ready for Cheltenham, but he’s in good form at the moment and has enjoyed jumping the National fences at home.
“The clock is ticking, and I’m not going to have many more shots at it.
“We all know the Grand National is very special to everybody, and it would be nice to get it on the CV – but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen.”
Christian Williams has long held the belief Potters Corner is the right type for the race, after he won the 2019 Welsh National.
“His season has been geared towards the Grand National, so fingers crossed,” said Williams.
“It was all about the Welsh National for the whole of last season, and it’s very much Aintree all of this season.”
Paul Nolan went close in the Irish National on Monday with Latest Exhibition and runs Discorama, placed at the Cheltenham Festival on more than one occasion.
“He’s due a bit of luck – he’s been placed at three Cheltenham Festivals,” said Nolan.
“He’s certainly a horse we’d love to get his head in front, but it’s not easy with the way he runs and the way he stays behind the bridle a little bit.
“You have your favourite races, and certainly the English National captures the hearts of millions of people.
“The horse that wins it becomes a household name for a certain bit of time. It would absolutely be a dream come true if he was able to win.”
Nick Alexander runs Lake View Lad – another in the Trevor Hemmings colours, along with Cloth Cap.
“He’s done all his work and he’s ready to go,” said Alexander.
“He’s in very good shape. His last couple of runs were a little disappointing, but we’ve done a few things, so hopefully we can get him back to the form he was in when he won the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree at the beginning of December.
“If he can replicate that form and takes to the fences, he should run a big race, I hope. We go there with optimism.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies calls upon Bristol De Mai as he looks for a third Grand National.
“I was going to run him in last year’s National – and while that never happened, he’s been trained specifically for the race this time,” said Twiston-Davies.
“We decided to give the Gold Cup a miss, and take him fresh to Aintree.
“He’s a very good jumper and has great enjoyed himself schooling over a couple of ‘jumped-up’ fences.
“He pleased me in each of his races this season. To win a third Betfair Chase like that was very special, and I thought he did nothing wrong at Sandown (when chasing home Native River) in the Cotswold Chase.”
Twiston-Davies also runs Ballyoptic – while Jessica Harrington has again sent over the mare Magic Of Light, who chased home Tiger Roll a couple of years ago. She also runs Jett.
“She’s all set and all ready to rock and roll,” said Harrington.
“You’ve got to have a lot of luck. I hope she’s in as good a form as she was two years ago, but it’s hard to tell.
“She’s been in good form all season, and I was delighted with her run at Cheltenham. The trip was too short for her – they went very quick, and she just got going at the end.
“It blew the cobwebs away and should put her right for Saturday, all being well.
“As long as the ground is good, I think Jett will give a good account of himself. He loves those fences, and we’ll hope for the best.”