What I want in a Grand National winner

When Rachael Blackmore won last year’s Grand National we were not the only ones pinching ourselves. “I can’t believe I’m Rachael Blackmore,” she told me on ITV. Hopefully it has sunk in by now.

I’ve been lucky enough to do some big interviews in my time, in football and racing, and that was my favorite yet. In a moment like that, you know there are hundreds of millions of people and here is a story that will resonate across the globe. Rachael has become jump racing’s first global superstar and the eyes of the sporting world will be fixed on Aintree at 5.15pm.

Rachael and Minella Times will have their work cut out this time though, having been raised 15lbs by the handicapper. Minella Times has not been in the same way since. But one lesson I’ve learned over the last 12 months is this: never write off Rachael Blackmore.

Minella Times is also trained by a genius in Henry De Bromhead. He doesn’t really get the credit he deserves. After yet another one-two in the Cheltenham Gold Cup I found myself apologizing to Henry, as it was the jockey who had received all the attention and headlines. Not that Henry minded. That is the measure of the man.

Rachael’s historic feat last year sparked tributes from the great and good: Billie Jean King, Kenny Dalglish, Ringo Starr, Judi Dench. There is one person, though, who Rachael admires more than any other – and who has recorded a special message for her. We will play it on the show today. This is a big one.

It has been fantastic to see the crowds back in Aintree this week. That was the great sadness of last year – that Rachael’s magnificent win was played out in a ghost town. But the punters are back and as Des Lynam used to say: today is “the day the nation goes racing.”

It’s 30 years to the day that I stood behind Des, eager to get on television before Party Politics won the National. I spent the Sunday scouring the VHS to see if I’d succeeded. It’s surreal to think that I’m now in Des’ shoes. Who knows? The presenter of the 2052 Grand National might be behind us in the crowd on Saturday.

The Grand National is the reason why I switched from football to racing. It’s as big as it gets. And thankfully, we have avoided a heat wave – between that and Rachael, we could get a big viewing figure.

Who is going to win? I’ve had two winners and two places in the four years since this column started in 2017. It’s my favorite race – but I do fear my luck has been used up.

I would love Snow Leopardess to win, for Alice Plunkett, my ITV colleague, her mother and her mother-in-law (the “galloping grannies”). Snow Leopardess is a gray mother herself and bound to have a huge following, reflected in her odds of her. Generations of Plunketts and Fox-Pitts are coming and tears will flow, win, lose or draw.

We’ve not seen a home win at Aintree since Many Clouds in 2015 but I’m going to buck the trend and pick an English trained horse today. fiddlerontheroof ticks all the boxes I want in a Grand National winner.

These days they go very fast in the National, so you’ve got to stay. I want a horse that is a relentless galloper. Fiddlerontheroof may represent a slight risk, as he has not formed over trips like this, but he looks like a galloper to me.

When he was second in the Ladbrokes Trophy in November he showed no signs of stopping. Whether he takes the fences, you never know, but he’s got class. His form of him in the Ladbrokes Trophy, at Ascot, and last time over hurdles he was good too

This would also be laced with emotion as co-owner Paul Taylor lost his three-year-old son Charlie in tragic circumstances in 2015. It is also his trainer Colin Tizzard’s final National before handing over the reins to son Joe. His daughter Kim, who passed away in 2020, would have been at the heart of the operation – and the celebrations – and I’m sure they’ll be looking to the skies if Fiddlerontheroof wins.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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