Grand National 2014: Willie Mullins’ Prince De Beauchene can rule Aintree at last

Irish hope looks to put injuries behind him to secure Grand National glory

Aintree

There are so many ways to find the winner of the Grand National. In fact, since Lottery eponymously set the tone in 1839, there have been 166. Some involve the head, some the heart, and some the random use of a pin. But you can be sure that Miss Roberta Josephine Kelly, on a day out at the races with her friends from Kirby in 1999, will have collected just the same winnings as the form students who backed Bobbyjo into 10-1 third favourite.

They say that to find the winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase – and now Britain’s richest, with a £1m purse – you follow the story. More accurately it is probably fairer to say that there is a tale to be told about every runner, given that they are nearly all mature racehorses who have been around the block a few times. But sure, some have more romantic backgrounds than others.

Take Monbeg Dude, whose popular appeal may well have him the market leader come 4.15 this afternoon. The nine-year-old is owned by a syndicate of rugby internationals headed by the former England captain Mike Tindall, who acquired him unseen and pretty much unintentionally with a bid of just £12,000 – buttons in racing terms – at an equine auction during a convivial dinner. And there’s a royal connection; Tindall’s wife Zara Phillips, an Olympic equestrienne, has helped to improve the horse’s jumping and victory could set a her family’s Grand National record straight after 58 years; Devon Loch, owned by Phillips’ great-grandmother, the Queen Mother, was in 1956 the race’s most famous loser.

 

If you want poignancy and the potential for tears, then step forward The Package. The gelding runs in the colours of the late David Johnson, who was such a great supporter of the sport but who succumbed to cancer last July. Johnson won the 2008 National with Comply Or Die; his family, headed by widow Shirley, have carried on his racing legacy and love. On Thursday their hurdler Doctor Harper, named for Johnson’s oncology specialist, won at Aintree.

Racing is a great sport for pedigrees, and not just the horses. There have been many father-and-son winning combinations over the centuries, as both jockeys and trainers, with such as Tommy and Paul Carberry, Ruby and Ted Walsh, Ginger and Donald McCain, Martin and David Pipe. But the one baton that has yet to be handed on concerns one of the game’s most famous dynasties. Michael Scudamore rode Oxo to win in 1959, but his son Peter, though eight times champion jockey, never won a National in 12 rides. Neither yet has Peter’s son Tom, stable jockey to David Pipe, who tries for the 13th time on The Package. And the family will be double-handed today: Tom’s brother Michael trains Monbeg Dude.

Read more: Not sure who to back? Check out our horse-by-horse guide
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Betting: A process of elimination

It is 60 years since Vincent O’Brien, Bryan Marshall and Joe Griffin became the last trainer-jockey-owner combination to take the prize with two different horses, after Royal Tan followed Early Mist in 1954. Today the team successful 12 months ago with Auroras Encore – Sue and Harvey Smith, Ryan Mania and the trio of Douglas Pryde, Jim Beaumont (who once worked as a bellboy in Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel) and David van der Hoeven – try again with Mr Moonshine.

There are several who might be rewarded for trying, trying and trying again. Among jockeys, Richard Johnson’s closest call in 17 rides has been his second on What’s Up Boys in 2002; he is on Balthazar King today. Among owners, Graham Wylie tries with Tidal Bay and Prince De Beauchene, and would have to suffer if Alvarado, whom he used to own but sold two years ago, should prevail.

Among trainers, the reigning champion Nicky Henderson has had 33 previous runners – including seven first-fence fallers – since 1979, but has yet to get closer than The Tsarevich’s second place 27 years ago. Henderson fields four today – Long Run, Triolo D’Alene, Hunt Ball and Shakalakaboomboom – and victory would put him right back in the mix against Paul Nicholls for this season’s trainers’ title.

And good things do sometimes come to those who wait. Nicholls’ record was worse than Henderson’s before Neptune Collonges inched home two years ago; he tries for another with Tidal Bay, Rocky Creek and Hawkes Point. Owner J P McManus tried for 28 years before winning with Don’t Push It – Tony McCoy’s first victory at his 15th attempt – in 2010.

McCoy’s presence on Double Seven today has caused the eight-year-old’s price to tumble and he is another who will be vying for favouritism. The 18-times champion is the one jockey familiar to once-a-year punters, but the rider with the best record over the unique fences is amateur Sam Waley-Cohen, who partners his family-owned former Gold Cup winner Long Run, whose ninth birthday it is today.

Pinstickers can do worse than playing the name game. Could there have been any other winner in 1992 than Party Politics, a few weeks before a general election? Wine-lovers could perhaps today go for Pineau De Re, those of a literary bent for Kruzhlinin, birthplace of Mikhail Sholokhov. But the topical tip, in a week when Liverpool top the Premier League and the Hillsborough inquest has been reconvened, must be Walkon.

But that one would be backed more with hope in the heart than confidence. While the 30 National fences still provide a daunting test, they are easier to flick over at speed than they used to be and, as a result, horses get less of a chance to refill their lungs in the air. That puts the emphasis in the race firmly back on stamina and experience; the last two winners have been battle-hardened 11-year-olds and in the past four years only four horses younger than 10 have finished in the first six.

The favourite Teaforthree, last year’s third, is a great jumper, has dropped in the weights and must be on any logical shortlist. Two others who ran last year, The Rainbow Hunter and Across The Bay, can be expected to do better; the former jumped round solo after his rider was knocked off at the Canal Turn, and the latter, who came in a tired 14th after leading for more than a circuit, will surely be ridden more conservatively this time.

The classiest acts are Tidal Bay (no top weight has won since Red Rum in 1974, and although age has clearly not withered Tidal Bay yet, no 13-year-old since Sergeant Murphy in 1923) and Long Run, and do not forget Burton Port, a Grade One contender two years ago and well handicapped on that level of form.

The Irish have not won for seven years and mount a 10-strong challenge today. Lion Na Bearnai, winner of the Irish National two years ago, has the proven stamina. But the vote goes to Prince De Beauchene (4.15), who was ante-post favourite for the past two Nationals before injury intervened. This time he has had a trouble-free preparation, has a touch of class and, at 20-1, looks value. And he comes with a feel-good story attached; he would give Ireland’s top trainer Willie Mullins and owner Wylie fine compensation for On His Own’s agonisingly narrow defeat in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Sue Montgomery’s Grand National 1-2-3-4

1. Prince De Beauchene

2. The Rainbow Hunter

3. Teaforthree

4. Lion Na Bearnai

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