Arbor Supreme offers shade of value to stand tallest at 20-1

Irish challenger can rise above an unlucky exit last year to sort wood from the trees

National by name, national by nature, it is the one race that reliably dismantles the mystery of the Turf. How could it be otherwise, when 40 horses entwine so many different lives in the same dreams and dreads?

The Derby is for better horses – much faster ones, anyway – but they tend to be owned by sheikhs and magnates. If far more people bet on the John Smith's Grand National today, than at Epsom in June, that's partly because they already have a stake in the principle of proceedings. A horse can arrive here from nearly anywhere, so long as he is bold and brave enough.

Admittedly, some jockeys will be wearing the silks of extremely wealthy men. On the other hand, one of the owners of Big Fella Thanks is a hairdresser; Surface To Air is owned by a carpenter; Golden Kite runs in the colours of a country doctor from Co Cork; while half of Backstage is divided between the staff who care for him at Gordon Elliott's yard in Co Meath, each having paid €100 (£88) to buy their share.

And even the most famous of all the owners involved today brings a suitably common touch. Sir Alex Ferguson has learnt a lot about racing over the years – not all of it, notoriously, to his advantage – but when you hear him talk about horses, you hear undiluted the man he might have been, had football never taken him out of Govan. There will be other 69-year-olds, retired from the shipyards and passing their afternoons in a betting shop, who back What A Friend today through an affinity that has nothing to do with Manchester United.

Ferguson himself will be attending to matters at Old Trafford. He will hardly contrive to see the race live, halfway through the second half, but perhaps someone will smuggle him a radio if Fulham appear to be under control. As he said himself, after What A Friend ran fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month, that's exactly what gives him a kick about his horses – the fact that events, for a change, are totally beyond his control.

Aintree, of course, can take that to uncomfortable extremes. With so many hazards – whether immovable objects, like Becher's Brook, or the irresistible forces falling or changing direction in your path – even the very best riders can find themselves helpless. It took the most prolific one in history 15 exasperating attempts to win the race, albeit in doing so he finally won broader admiration for his unprecedented achievements.

Tony McCoy duly returns today as BBC Sports Personality of the Year to assist Don't Push It in his attempt to become the first back-to-back Grand National winner since Red Rum himself. McCoy's mount looked to be coming back to the boil at Cheltenham last month and could well go off favourite, despite top weight.

At 20-1, however, perhaps the bet this time round is a horse rejected by McCoy, as retained jockey to J P McManus. McCoy was clearly vindicated in spurning Arbor Supreme last year, but the horse had taken well to the fences until hampered and losing his jockey at The Chair. And it does seem mystifying why he should be twice the odds of the two horses he split in their rehearsal at Fairyhouse in February.

True, the one that beat him has an excellent profile. Likewise stabled with the champion trainer of Ireland, Willie Mullins, The Midnight Club is ridden by one of the all-time Aintree masters in Ruby Walsh, and has long promised to come into his own over this kind of distance. But the fact is that he only narrowly held the stronger finish of Arbor Supreme at Fairyhouse, and is 10lb worse off today.

Back in third was Oscar Time, who jumped superbly and travelled best for a long way, only to flatten out under pressure. His trainer believes him fitter today, but the longer trip will remain an issue to those who felt Oscar Time did not really see things out in the Irish National last year, when worn down by Bluesea Cracker.

The latter has shaped well this winter, but conditions will be faster than she cares for – and much the same is true of Silver By Nature. In contrast, Arbor Supreme adores good going. Anyone who saw his first start on spring ground, at Punchestown in his novice season, will still remember the way he thrashed Black Apalachi in a marathon handicap. And that, of course, was the horse who was breathing down the neck of Don't Push It here last year.

Form from 2008 is a little ancient to be worth dwelling on today, but it is a reminder that Arbor Supreme is far more seasoned than many of his rivals – and experience remains critical round here. In fact, as many as nine of the 14 who finished last year had all completed the course at least once in the past. State Of Play commands respect, on that basis, having been nervelessly kept off the track since last year, as he is best fresh, but his stamina has not looked copper-bottomed even in making the frame twice.

The same anxiety undermines Big Fella Thanks but another who faded last year, Character Building, could see things out better this time. He used up plenty of energy to challenge from off the pace, and had in any case had an interrupted preparation. His stable is in top form just now.

Becauseicouldntsee would be warmly recommended but for a setback that has kept him off the track since Christmas, while In Compliance looks very well treated at the weights, if lasting the trip. Ballabriggs should go well for the stable for ever associated with Red Rum, though his stamina is uncertain, and Skippers Brig has not received adequate credit for beating him in their trial at Kelso.

What A Friend and Tidal Bay both have their quirks, as well as a touch of class. Each seems certain to come up with a fairly extreme response to this challenge, though whether positive or negative is hard to say.

The heavily backed Backstage has been given an artful preparation, and will get an artful ride, too, while Killyglen and Dooneys Gate are outsiders who could go well. Majestic Concorde adds class, if not experience, to a formidable Irish challenge, but it can be Arbor Supreme who raises the tricolour highest.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities