The Grand National at Aintree is widely regarded as the ultimate test of horse, jockey and trainer.
Some riders and handlers can go their entire careers without even coming close to winning the Liverpool showpiece. It’s the race that everyone wants to win as it’s the world’s most famous steeplechase. Around two-thirds of UK adults place a bet on the Grand National each year.
Just getting your mount around two circuits and over 30 spruce-covered fences to last the marathon four-and-a-quarter miles is an achievement in of itself. Only 40 of the best-rated staying chasers of the National Hunt horse racing scene in Britain and Ireland can line-up on Merseyside in any one year.
There’s an exclusivity to the Grand National. Some trainers and jockeys have been more successful than others. That might be down to luck as much as ability, picking up spare rides here and there if fellow pilots are injured.
Trainers can do months – if not years – of prep with their animals, strengthening and conditioning them for the extreme rigours of the Aintree test. However, it only takes a faller in front of you and you’re out of the race.
This unpredictable element where anything can happen is what makes betting on the Grand National so interesting and why it has a special place in the UK’s public consciousness. This is our in-depth look at who has the best (and worst) Aintree records.
Walsh and Aspell most successful
When it comes to top Grand National jockeys in recent times, two names stand out as the only dual winners this century. Leighton Aspell and Ruby Walsh.
Aspell became the first rider since Brian Fletcher to win consecutive renewals of the race in 2014 and 2015. However, unlike the pilot of Aintree icon Red Rum who won the race three times in the 1970s and was the last horse to win it in consecutive season in 1973 and 74, he did it on different horses. Victories on Pineau De Re and the late Many Clouds came for trainers Dr Richard Newland and Oliver Sherwood, respectively.
Walsh, meanwhile, triumphed first in 2000 aboard Papillon, trained by his father, Ted Walsh. He then struck again at Aintree five years later when teaming up with Willie Mullins and the leading Grand National owner of modern times, Trevor Hemmings, with Hedgehunter.
Since that second success in 2005, Walsh has ridden just two horses into a place. He’s missed five of the last 10 runnings of the Grand National though and only completed once in three attempts since 2011.
That horse was Pleasant Company in 2017, also for Mullins. The Irish trainer’s nephew David took the ride 12 months ago when he just failed by a head to beat Tiger Roll.
The younger Mullins won the Grand National with his first-ever ride in the race in 2016 aboard Rule The World for Mouse Morris. Although pulling-up his mount 12 months later, a win and a place from three career rides in the Aintree spectacular is a phenomenal success rate.
Big case for Geraghty in a place
Barry Geraghty last won the Grand National in 2003 with Monty’s Pass. Since then, however, he has been as consistent as any jockey in getting horses home. From 14 subsequent rides in the race, Geraghty has only failed to complete four times in 15 years.
On five other occasions, he finished third or fourth. Those placed horses include Anibale Fly 12 months ago, who has since improved from third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season to second this season.
If taking the ride for owner JP McManus and shrewd trainer Tony Martin as expected again, then Geraghty could continue that trend. A big weight on his back did not inconvenience Anibale Fly at Aintree last year either.
While Geraghty has a great record over the Grand National fences, spare a thought for champion jockey Richard Johnson. So long in the shadow cast by Tony McCoy over the weighing room for two decades, his luck has often been out on Merseyside.
Johnson has twice ridden the Grand National runner-up with a dozen years between runs on What’s Up Boys in 2002 and Balthazar King in 2014. He has also failed to complete 14 times in his 20 attempts at the world-famous steeplechase.
In the last two years, Johnson hasn’t even had a mount in the big one at Aintree. Could Rock The Kasbah for long-time associate trainer Philip Hobbs make it 21st time lucky?
Elliott twice as good with half the runners of Mullins
The epic battle between County Meath handler Gordon Elliott and County Carlow trainer Mullins for Irish jumps racing supremacy is a big feature of the current era in this great sport.
Mullins’ first success came with Hedgehunter with Ruby Walsh aboard, only to be followed two years later by Elliott, for whom Robbie Power guided Silver Birch to victory. Tiger Roll then gave him a second win 12 months ago.
It’s all a question of numbers. Elliott incredibly has a Grand National win and place ratio of 25 per cent from 16 runners. One win and two placed horses came in the last couple of years with Cause Of Causes and Bless The Wings finishing second and third, respectively.
Although the intention is for Elliott to be mob-handed and have many irons in the fire at Aintree this year, going into the 2019 Grand National he has been twice as successful as Mullins with just half his rival’s runners.
Hedgehunter came back to Merseyside as reigning champion in 2006 and finished a gallant second. Two other Mullins mounts have placed since, including Pleasant Company. His win and place ratio is 12.5 per cent from 32 runners. Others from Closutton aimed at the race this time around include Rathvinden and Pairofbrowneyes.
The latest chapter in the storied Elliott v Mullins rivalry could be written in this Grand National. Both have multiple entries with live chances, and their respective records mean they are worth giving every consideration to.
Henderson hapless at Aintree?
Nicky Henderson has pretty much done it all in National Hunt horse racing, except for winning the Grand National itself. Success has eluded the Seven Barrows handler in the big one, and he’ll like as not even have a runner in the 2019 race.
Paul Nicholls, who triumphed in 2012 with Neptune Collonges and is set to wrest the UK champion trainer title back from Henderson, also lacks Aintree ammunition this year. One possible entrant from Ditcheat, Warriors Tale, sports the quartered silks of leading Grand National owner Hemmings, but other horses belonging to him are reckoned more live chances.
One of those is Vintage Clouds for Sue Smith, who saddled Auroras Encore to victory in 2013. The Yorkshire handler is one of a few trainers with previous Grand National glory on her CV that just have one animal entered this year. Dr Newland is another in this category and runs Irish import Abolitionist.
No discussion of Grand National trainers would be complete without Nigel Twiston-Davies. His two successes with Earth Summit and Bindaree may have been some years ago now, but his Gloucestershire stables are well-represented at Aintree again.
Go Conquer has demonstrated improved form since arriving from the yard of Jonjo O’Neill while Ballyoptic was just denied in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr last spring and could be one to go close to gaining compensation here.