The agonies of choice are not confined to the once-a-year punter in the run-up to the Grand National. For the professionals involved, too, there are decisions to be made, but ones with more ramifications than a pinsticking flutter. Just look at last year's race, for instance, and feel for Aidan Coleman. Given the pick of the pair trained by Venetia Williams, he opted for Stan, fell at the seventh and watched from the infield as Liam Treadwell rode to immortality on 100-1 shot Mon Mome. And, briefly, pulled down his goggles and wept.
Coleman will be on Mon Mome, currently the second favourite, on Saturday, but may just be conscious of the fact his stable may also be represented by longshot Flintoff. Among his weighing-room colleagues, Tony McCoy will be seeking his first Grand National victory on either Can't Buy Time or Don't Push It, both trained by Jonjo O'Neill; Timmy Murphy is dithering between David Pipe's 2008 winner Comply Or Die and young pretender The Package.
Ruby Walsh, with the talent of the Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins operations at his disposal, opted last week for the market leader Big Fella Thanks ahead of Tricky Trickster or My Will for the former and Arbor Supreme or Snowy Morning for the latter. Paul Townend, No 2 for Ireland's champion trainer, has gone for Arbor Supreme; from Nigel Twiston-Davies' six possibles, Paddy Brennan will be on Irish Raptor.
Jockeys are anecdotally supposed to be the worst tipsters and Walsh, the only jockey currently riding with two Grand Nationals on his CV, admits his call was a hard one to make and almost prefers the no-option situations that put him on Papillon, trained by his father Ted and his first ride in the race, 10 years ago, and Hedgehunter, for Mullins, in 2005. "I can ride only one horse," he said, "and though I'd like to think I'll get round on Big Fella Thanks and leave a few behind us, nobody will know if I'm right until after the race."
One shift of the kaleidoscope, and the pattern would be different. And this year, the beneficiary may be two tweaks down the line. Snowy Morning, the perceived second string from Mullins' yard at Closutton in Co Carlow, will be ridden by David Casey. And perhaps the race owes the 34-year-old Irishman one; he was on Hedgehunter when the gelding crashed at the last, still in contention, in 2004, and injured when Walsh triumphed the following year.
Experience round Aintree's fences can stand a horse in good stead; of recent winners not only Hedgehunter but also Mon Mome, Silver Birch and Amberleigh House had a sighter before their glory. Snowy Morning has twice jumped round; two years ago he and Casey finished third and 12 months ago, with Andy McNamara in the saddle, came in ninth.
Mon Mome will not be the only past winner bidding to become the first dual hero since Red Rum; his predecessors Comply Or Die and Silver Birch are also set to try their luck again in the John Smith's-sponsored marathon. As are the past two winners of one of the traditional introductions to the National fences, the Becher Chase. Both – Vic Venturi and Black Apalachi – are trained by Dessie Hughes in Co Kildare, but there has been no heated jockeys' debate there; the former is Paddy Flood's ride, the latter Roger Loughran's.
Black Apalachi has run in the past two Nationals, but has yet to get round, though he was blazing a tremendous trail when unseating his rider (then Denis O'Regan) at the second Becher's. The 11-year-old's chance may have come and gone but his year-younger stablemate, an easy winner when the pair finished one-two at Fairyhouse in February, has a persuasive profile.
Of the first-timers, mudlark Whinstone Boy, on the edge of the cut, presented sound claims when he won the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January off a featherweight and continued his progress under a heavier burden at Clonmel two weeks later. His trainer Jimmy Mangan sent out Monty's Pass to victory from his tiny Co Cork yard seven years ago.
This year, though, may be a year for those who have been there, nearly done that. Snowy Morning is best judged on his first effort, five and half lengths behind Comply Or Die giving him weight; he was out of sorts for much of last season. And though without a win since May, his recent efforts have been encouraging; in his last three runs he has finished in the frame in Grade Two contests over distances much too short for his proven stamina.
The 10-year-old, owned by the hurling-loving Mooney family syndicate from Co Wexford, has many of the qualities needed to put himself in line for a share of the £925,000 purse; stamina, the ability to leap large obstacles and act on easy ground, a touch of class, a decent racing weight. He will also need that imponderable, luck. Third time, he may get it.
Prediction: 1. Snowy Morning 2. Vic Venturi 3. Whinstone Boy 4. Big Fella Thanks Best longshot Joe Lively
FOUR TO WATCH
Can't Buy You Luck: J P McManus
McManus, professional punter, financial marketeer and entrepreneur, has tried to win a National since 1982, with 33 colourbearers so far sent to the fray. Clan Royal, runner-up six years ago, came closest; this year his hopes lie with Arbor Supreme, Don't Push It, Can't Buy Time and King Johns Castle.
Outrageous Luck: Dream Alliance
The nine-year-old is the first horse bred by Welsh part-time barmaid Jan Vokes, from a £350 mare, and was brought up on an allotment in a mining village. He is owned by a 24-strong syndicate which includes a cafe owner, plasterer, car washer, taxi driver, painter and bailiff, each of whom chip in £10 a week. The gelding survived a near fatal leg injury in a race at Aintree in 2008.
Beginners Luck: Harry Skelton
The 20-year-old is born to jump, as the son of the showjumping legend Nick, who spent time with David Nicholson before representing GB in six Olympics. Skelton Jnr has already won a National, the Irish version, on the horse who will give him his first ride in the real thing, Niche Market.
Changed By Luck: Nigel Twiston-Davies
Won the Aintree showpiece with Earth Summit in 1998 but was on the point of giving up when Bindaree took the prize eight years ago and turned his life round. Relies on lucky numbers this time, with six runners.
Sue MontgomeryReuse content