For much of the build-up, the conception has been that the Grand National will be little more than a rematch of last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, an opportunity to see if Dubacilla and Miinnehoma can reverse form with Master Oats. This is dangerous thinking.
Not many Gold Cup winners go on to Aintree three weeks later, but those that do invariably lose. Golden Miller, in 1934, stands as the only exception. In recent years the animals that have failed include Alverton, who gave up his life in the challenge, Garrison Savannah and Cool Ground.
Mark Pitman knows what it is like to have the season's leading chaser fade underneath at Liverpool. Garrison Savannah's rider in 1991 also knows of the snares that await Cheltenham horses when faced with the sport's most rigorous appointment. His mount four years ago had run the race of his life to win the Gold Cup and the National was expected to be a simple exercise between the occasions of the parade and the press conference. And then along came Seagram.
"`Garry' had a hard race in the Gold Cup and problems before and afterwards," Pitman said. "But the main difference is that Liverpool is so different from Cheltenham. It's far too simplistic to take form from the Festival and say it will definitely apply here.
"Master Oats is obviously a very good horse but if he starts belting a few of these like he did at Cheltenham he won't get away with it. Put it this way, we're far happier taking him on here in a handicap than we would be on level weights at Cheltenham."
Jenny Pitman, Mark's mother, has prized the National above all other races since 1983 when Corbiere, the horse she regarded more as a limb than an animal, won. "Never mind about the ability of the horses, when they run in the Grand National it is a bit like a marathon, they just have to have an awful lot of courage," she said. "At Liverpool, if they haven't got the guts to back up their courage then I'm afraid you're a loser."
Team Pitman could indeed operate as a cycling outfit this afternoon as there are six runners from Weathercock House. Mark Pitman cannot choose between them and believes all of them have a chance. When connections say this it usually means they have not.
His thoughts, though, do spell peril for Master Oats. In the Gold Cup he was given time and space to regroup after errors. Such luxuries will not be available this afternoon.
There is an interesting tableau each year before the Grand National when, 40 minutes before the off, an official enters the jockeys' room and warns all not to go too fast to the first fence. The riders nod nervously, the man departs, and seconds later the competitors forget that anyone has been in to see them.
Composure will be in short supply over the good ground that does not suit Master Oats particularly well anyway. At present odds he represents bad value.
The ground will also be no great friend to Miinnehoma, whose victory 12 months ago was on going normally associated with the Everglades. In addition the 12-year-old comes from an age group that has won just once in the last 15 years.
The third horse from the Cheltenham frame, Dubacilla, must, however, go well despite the statistic that no mare has won this race Nickel Coin in 1951. A half-sister to last year's runner-up Just So, Dubacilla showed her first worthwhile form of the season at the Festival and is one of the safer conveyances in the field.
She will not, though, be as well fancied as Young Hustler. When this diminutive animal scans Aintree's huge fences it must be like the Greeks looking up at the ramparts of Troy. Like them he appeared to have found a way round the problem last year until he was brought down by a loose horse. Form is not greatly in the gelding's favour, but the terrain is and it is not difficult to visualise him reaching the frame.
One who should be in front of him, however, is the 1992 victor Party Politics, who looks as though he was designed from the blueprint of the Wooden Horse. His size is such that these obstacles must look about as daunting as a herbaceous border. A fresh horse from the 11-year-old age category that has been most successful in recent times, Party Politics appears the most likely winner.
The exotic element in the race is provided by Tsuyoshi Tanaka, who becomes the first Japanese jockey to compete with his ride on The Committee. It is safe to assume that Tanaka is not doing it for the money as he has already won the Nakayama-Dai-Shogai, his country's version of the Grand National, which is worth about £380,000. Each time he throws his leg over a horse in his homeland he is paid about £500.
The Japanese rider is the son of a former champion featherweight boxer, which is fairly apt on a day when bookmakers and lottery organisers will be fighting for the contents of purse and wallet. What coppers that can be located should be put against Party Politics' name.Reuse content