For the once-a-year pin-stickers and thrill-seekers, there is the Grand National on Saturday, run this year as Britain's first £1m jump race. It is perhaps something of an anomaly that the historic contest offers such a massive reward; it is not, after all, a championship contest, but an oddball Grade Three handicap which will not necessarily be won by the innately classiest horse, only the best – and perhaps luckiest – at the weights under the day's conditions.
For the purists, the meeting at Aintree that opens on Thursday also offers a series of Grade One prizes, 10 in all in various categories. And luck – good or bad – can, of course, affect an outcome even on a conventional playing field; just ask Nigel Twiston-Davies and his son Sam. The pride of their Gloucestershire stable, The New One, would likely, or at least firmly arguably, have won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month but for being stopped in his tracks by a faller to finish third.
Twiston-Davies père et fils are not alone in thinking that the six-year-old is the best hurdler around, but he has not yet proved it and the regrouping starts this afternoon in the Aintree Hurdle. Twelve months ago, as a novice, he came on to the two-and-a-half-mile race from Cheltenham after a wide-margin victory against his peers and confirmed he might be the real deal by running the smart senior Zarkandar to half a length.
Two of those behind The New One (3.05) last month, Ptit Zig and Grumeti, reoppose, but there seems no reason to think they will fare any better this time. There is a Champion Hurdle winner in the field in Rock On Ruby – like Grandouet, reverting to the smaller obstacles after failing over fences in the Arkle Trophy – but he could not win the race two years ago when at the peak of his hurdling powers. The one for the forecast may be the Irish raider Diakali.
If The New One is seeking compensation, another defeated in a title bout at Cheltenham is after consolation. Silviniaco Conti was beaten fair and square in the Gold Cup; he led over the last and the only mitigation might be that he was unable to eyeball the three who went wide past him on the uphill run-in. A return to a flat track for the Betfred Bowl is likely to suit and, though he was only third in the three mile, one furlong contest last year, he seems a better horse this season and was impressive in the King George VI Chase.
His opposition includes last year's Aintree winner First Lieutenant, who missed Cheltenham, and Dynaste, who bounced back to his best to take the Ryanair Chase at the Festival. The elite staying chasers are an evenly matched bunch this year and today it may be the turn of Dynaste (2.30), who perhaps had an easier time of it last month.
The first race of the week over the National fences is the province of amateurs, some of them more proficient riders than others. The best horse in the Fox Hunters' Chase may well be Mossey Joe, but the jockey with the best record over the unique obstacles is Sam Waley-Cohen, whose mount Warne (3.40) finished fourth last year.