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Eden Jon 6th Apr 2013 - 6:20

The Grand National is here at last!

All roads lead to Aintree.

At 4.15 on Saturday afternoon, 40 runners will gather before the starting tapes for the world's most popular race, the John Smith's Grand National.

With an expected TV audience of over 500 million, in over 140 countries, the race is a British sporting institution of the highest calibre.

No other sporting event can claim the mythology and legend that is so finely linked to this amazing spectacle.

First run in 1839, the winner will join a roll of honour that stretches back over nearly 200 years of history.

Aintree's national fences, the Chair, Foinavon, the Canal Turn and of course Beecher's Brook have their own place in making this race a drama filled spectacle as thrilling as the best Bond movie.

And after 4 miles 3 ½ furlongs and 30 fences, those still with chances will make a slight switch to their right past the ‘Elbow' and up the final run in. Every step will be a test of the horse and jockey's bravery and stamina.

Dreams will be created or broken during these exhilarating ten minutes, but for one lucky horse, jockey, trainer and owner, the celebrations will last a lifetime.

Last year, champion trainer Paul Nicholls (of Kauto Star, Denman and Masted Minded fame), landed his first Aintree Grand National, as the galloping grey Neptune Collonges rode into retirement with a top class weight carrying performance. And the winning distance after over four miles of helter skelter, edge of your seat excitement? A nose!

Sunnyhillboy, with Richie McLernon on board, being the loser in the photograph. He returns for legendary Irish jockey turned trainer Jonjo O'Neill and hopes are high that he can go one better this Saturday.

Five lengths behind the main protagonists, Seabass, ridden by Katie Walsh (sister to Ruby) for her father Ted, appeared to run out of steam up the finishing straight, having led two fences from home and is another returning for another spin around this most famous of courses and Ted Walsh has a live second chance with the fast improving Colbert Station (who with Sunnyhillboy is owned by J.P McManus, one of the greatest owners and gamblers in National Hunt's illustrious history and a man the bookies fear).

Ireland always bring a strong contingent for the big race and this year is no exception.

Irish jump racing is dominated by Willie Mullins, who won the National in 2005 with Hedgehunter, ridden by Ruby Walsh. He has broken records throughout the season and was top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival last month. On His Own, who travelled like a winner in last year's renewal until falling at Beechers second time round, has had his season geared up for Aintree's big race and who could deny his chances for the master Irish trainer.

Wales have strong claims, with two horses that have won at the Cheltenham Festival in previous seasons. Teaforthree won the 4 mile NH Chase for Rebecca Curtis in 2012, while Cappa Bleu, as an inexperienced seven year old, swept home in the Foxhunters Chase in 2009. Neither can be excluded, with Teaforthree just losing out in the Welsh National and Cappa Bleu finshing a never nearer fourth last year having been restrained earlier in the race. Now that trainer Evan Williams knows stamina is not an issue, we should see a more attacking and forceful ride from Paul Moloney aboard Cappa Bleu.

Ballybriggs, winner in 2011 and sixth in 2012, returns for Donald McCain. The McCains knows a thing or two about winning the world's greatest race, as Donald's father Ginger trained the horse most synonymous with the Grand National, Red Rum, to win not one, not two, but three times during the 70's.

Imperial Call (defeated Deman and Kauto Star to take the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010 and top weight here), trained by double National winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and 2010 NH Chase winner Chicago Grey are further names to add to the melting point.

Housewives favourites AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh will be joined by Barry Geraghty, Richard Johnson and the best riders and Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and the rest of the training brigade will all have one thought at 4.15 ‘Let it be my day!'

Who will be writing their names in folklore this year?


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