It’s the 174th Grand National – but the first for two years and maybe the strangest, with no spectators.
There’s a hot favourite, but a host of challengers who could also deliver compelling storylines.
Our Sports Editor Nick Powell, at Aintree, showcases some leading contenders to make Grand National headlines.
We all like a fun name, and Discorama could have you dancing (outside, obviously) if Bryan Cooper can ride his first National winner.
In good form in his native Ireland, and has proved himself over four miles at Cheltenham.
Magic of Light
If you want a horse you KNOW can get round Aintree’s fearsome fences, you could get on board Magic of Light, who was beaten only by Tiger Roll in the last National.
ACTUALLY on board is Robbie Power, who won the race in 2007. Now 39, he’s the oldest jockey this time – which didn’t stop Davy Russell winning on Tiger Roll. If you believe in omens…
In great form for Rachael Blackmore, who last month was the first female to finish the Cheltenham Festival as leading jockey.
Can she be the first woman to ride the National winner? Two snags – this is much further than Minella Times has ever attempted before; and the hype around Blackmore is driving the price a bit short. Still interesting.
If not Blackmore, could Bryony Frost grab the headlines? She was fifth in the race on Milansbar in 2018.
Frost schooled Yala Enki over Aintree-style fences last week for trainer Paul Nicholls, who saddled the winner in 2012. "A strong stayer with a touch of class," he says of Yala Enki.
This is the one. Hot favourite. Sixty-two years after his grandad Michael won the race on Oxo, jockey Tom Scudamore aims for his first National win after two decades trying. If he gets it, it will give owner Trevor Hemmings a record fourth National.
Trainer Jonjo O’Neill won in 2010 with Don’t Push It, and Cloth Cap is carrying a stone less weight than if the handicapper were making his decisions now instead of February. Only negative – the bookies know all this, and he’s around 4-1 – very stingy in the National.
Amazing that Irish training genius Willie Mullins hasn’t won the National since 2005. Winner of the Irish National two years ago, Burrows Saint has enough ability to put that right.
Which would be heartbreaking for regular jockey Paul Townend, who injured a foot on Sunday. Willie’s son Patrick Mullins rides instead.
If not Burrows Saint, then maybe Acapella Bourgeois for Willie Mullins. Third behind Burrows Saint in that 2019 Irish National, and now better favoured by the weights.
Another family affair: nephew Danny rides. 33-1 on Friday morning with some bookies. Tempting.
Twice runner-up in the Becher Chase over Aintree’s National fences, which makes him a safer proposition than some.
Jockey Richie McLernon lost the 2012 National in a photo-finish. Might have liked more rain, but still a possibility.
What a story if this triumphs. The "winner" of the virtual National staged by computer to fill the void when COVID-19 struck last year.
Now in it for real, ridden by 18-year old Jack Tudor, with trainer Christian Williams aiming for the first Welsh success here since 1905. Not impossible, won the Welsh National, loves a long distance.
Fancy a mother and daughter miracle? It could happen for trainer Georgie Howell and her daughter Tabitha Worsley.
Sub Lieutenant has finished second over these fences, and would be much shorter than 100-1 with a more fashionable trainer. It’s a triumph that Worsley is even riding, having broken her back in a fall in 2017.
And the winner is?
No question Cloth Cap is the likeliest, but if he’s 4-1 I can’t bring myself to back him in the National. I might regret it.
Burrows Saint and Magic of Light are good alternatives, followed by Acapella Bourgeois and Discorama.
Other top possibilities I haven’t mentioned are Any Second Now and Anibale Fly, and at longer odds Takingrisks, Mister Malarky and The Long Mile.
And there’s always next year. Pandemic permitting.