The Grand National is a week away, and tensions are mounting as the trainers, jockeys and their runners all prepare to grace the infamous Aintree Racecourse once more. After the successes of the Cheltenham Festival a few weeks ago, spectators and punters now have their attention firmly on who will walk away with the Crabbie’s Grand National title. Despite recent changes, such as the news that Nina Carberry would be out of the running, there are still 96 horses entered in the event
. This is up on last years total, which only saw a grand total of 74 runners.
Although there are plenty of competitors to talk about, it is Annie Power, Champion Hurdle winner, who is dominating the racing scene once more. The eight year old chestnut mare has a lot to live up to after her latest victories, as well as many runners looking to challenge her top spot place. Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is eager to compete against the Mullins’ Cheltenham heroine once more after his eight year old gelding, New One, came fourth. After the disappointment of Cheltenham, Twiston-Davies admitted that his horse wasn’t as fast as he once was, however with the two and half miles of the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle he is expected to gain back some ground.
It isn’t only New One who is looking to make Annie Power work during the Grand Opening Day race, for nine year old Your Tent or Mine is also taking part. After an impressive display at Cheltenham after a two year absence, and only coming second to Mullins’ prize mare by four and a half lengths, the two runners are looking set to battle it out once more. The decision hasn’t been finalised yet, but with the countdown to opening day underway, and a strong team led by trainer Nicky Henderson, it appears likely that punters will see Your Tent or Mine join the list of runners.
Surprisingly, the list of Aintree runners has some of Mullins’ most prized horses attending this year, a move that isn’t normally seen by the Irish trainer, meaning the full list of runners and results come the final will be most impressive. Although Annie Power is once again amongst the favourites, as shown by national bookmaker Coral, Vautour, Douvan, Black Hercules, and Nichols Canyon will also be sporting favourable odds.
As followers of the National Hunt Calendar will know, Mullins usually saves his big names for the end of April Punchestown, but with the gap closing between him and fellow trainer Paul Nicholls, it seems the game is on for who can claim the Champion Trainer title. The Gloucestershire born mentor has won nine titles over the course of ten years, whereas Mullins’ won seven at this year’s Cheltenham alone. And with Aintree hosting some of the better quality matches in the next week, it appears that Mullins’ may get his wish of being the first ever Irish trainer to secure the British title of Champion Trainer.
Whoever succeeds now is anyone’s guess, with many great odds and tips to play for, however one thing is for certain: Willie Mullins has turned up the heat for the Grand National.