There will be no spectators at Aintree for the Grand National
Three women seek a place in athletic folklore on Saturday to become the first female jockey to win the Grand National.
Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost made history this season and will be accompanied in the race by Tabitha Worsley.
Top Cheltenham Festival driver Blackmore is in the Minella Times, Worsley is riding Sub Lieutenant with Frost aboard Yala Enki.
Cloth Cap is popular at Aintree, which has a two-minute break to mark the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
The flags on the route are flown at half-mast, with the jockeys wearing black armbands.
The meeting was canceled last year and this time it will take place without spectators due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Racehorse owners are allowed to compete and lead owner JP McManus has seven competitors including Minella Times, Any Second Now and Kimberlite Candy.
Tom Scudamore rides Cloth Cap for the eighty-year-old owner Trevor Hemmings, who will follow from home on the Isle of Man and is hoping for a fourth record win in his colors green, yellow and white.
A two-minute silence was observed on the Merseyside route on Friday
A National Velvet Moment?
It has been more than 70 years since the film National Velvet, in which Elizabeth Taylor played the jockey who was the first to leave the Grand National, was disqualified for technical reasons.
Women compete against men in horse racing, and the odds of being a winner in real life have increased in recent years. Katie Walsh took the best third place on Seabass in 2012.
Blackmore said her mount for trainer Henry de Bromhead, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, jumped well when he tried national-style fences in training.
“Look, it’s the Grand National and anything can happen, but I wouldn’t trade it anyway,” said the 31-year-old Irish driver.
She wants to follow up her milestone Cheltenham success last month when six wins meant she was the first woman to be a top jockey.
Jockeys Katie Walsh, Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore were pictured at Aintree in 2018
Frost was the first woman to win King George VI’s chase when she led Frodon to victory for Somerset coach Paul Nicholls in Kempton in December.
“Bryony has a chance. Rachel Blackmore has a very good chance. She has reached the top of her game,” the eleven-time championship coach Nicholls told BBC Radio 5 live.
“It would be really good for the sport if one of the girls won the national. They are more than capable of winning it.”
Grand National in a nutshell
Davy Russell won the Grand National for the second time with Tiger Roll in 2019
How far is the race? It’s a little over four and a half miles. It is a handicap where each runner is assigned a different weight based on how their skills are assessed. There are 30 fences including Becher’s Brook, the Chair, and the Canal Turn.
How long does it take? The winner usually finishes the course in about nine minutes.
Why isn’t Tiger Roll running? The 2018 and 2019 winner was withdrawn from the race in March. Owners Michael and Eddie O’Leary said they were unhappy with the horse’s weight. The 11-year-old finished fourth in the Betway Bowl on Thursday at Aintree.
What does the winner get? The total prize is £ 750,000 with the winning team raising £ 375,000.
How many Grand Nationals have there been? This is the 173rd round of the race, which was last held in 2019.
What about security? Significant changes were made ahead of the 2013 race, softening the core of the fences, reducing the distance and introducing new procedures for loose horses. There was one horse death last year – the first of 276 runners in the last seven editions.
Amateurs in the foreground
Patrick Mullins will ride leading competitor Burrows Saint for his coach father Willie Mullins after stable jockey Paul Townend sustained a foot injury.
The Mullins duo triumphed over the national fences with Livelovelaugh at Topham Chase on Friday.
“When I was a kid I had a book about the history of the National Fences and I never thought I’d get a chance to win one,” said Patrick.
He is one of four amateur jockeys in the running – with Jamie Codd on Milan Native, Derek O’Connor on OK Corral and Sam Waley-Cohen on Jett.
They want to be the first amateur to win since Marcus Armytage on Mr Frisk in 1990 and are allowed to drive after the latest lockdown easing after being banned from attending the Cheltenham Festival last month.
Runners must negotiate 30 fences in the Grand National
A very different Grand National
The Merseyside circuit would normally welcome 70,000 spectators for the world’s most famous jump race.
Instead, there will only be jockeys, coaches, owners, staff and a limited number of media.
There are strict Covid-19 protocols in place and Ireland-trained runners have been accommodated at Haydock Racecourse.
Police have stepped up patrols around the meeting, and residents near the Merseyside stretch have been warned not to gather in their gardens in groups of more than six during the races.
Grand National Jockeys traditionally visit patients on the eve of the race at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
This time current drivers Daryl Jacob and Richie McLernon, along with national winners Mick Fitzgerald and Ruby Walsh, took part in a special zoom call to answer questions about their careers and provide some pointers for the big race.
Saturday will be a poignant day for two families whose names are inextricably linked to the great race and who lost loved ones in the past year.
Owen Paterson, the North Shropshire MP whose wife Rose was chairman of Aintree Racecourse, starts a charity in their memory Raise funds for suicide prevention projects.
Friends and relatives of Liam Treadwell will run, walk, ride a bike, or ride the same distance as the National in his honor to raise money for Headway’s brain injury charity.
Treadwell won the National with a 100-1 shot Mon Mome in 2009, but spoke of depression after a concussion in a fall. A judgment of a mishap was recorded at an investigation into his death.
“Liam’s death devastated us all. Without Liam, life will never be the same, but we all want to keep making him proud,” said his brother Nathan.
Liam Treadwell died between the ages of 34 and 11 after his Grand National victory