While the Cheltenham Festival may be regarded by aficionados as the pinnacle of jumps racing, the Grand National at Aintree is seen as the people’s race.
More than 600 million people worldwide are expected to tune in and watch the 40 horses and their jockeys tackle the 30 fences along the famous four-mile-and-514-yards course this afternoon.
And all eyes will be on Rachael Blackmore, who became the first female jockey to win the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup on A Plus Tard last month.
The 32-year-old Irish national hunt jockey, who was named BBC Sports Personality’s World Sport Star of the Year in December, is looking to rewrite the record books yet again by winning the Grand National for the second time.
Twelve months ago, she steered Minella Times to a history-making success in front of desolate grandstands at Aintree.
And after her triumphs at Cheltenham, few would bet against her repeating the National feat, this time in front of thousands of adoring fans.
‘I’m so lucky,’ a typically modest Blackmore said after winning the Gold Cup.
‘I can’t believe it’s 12 months since the Grand National happened. Winning the National and the Gold Cup, they are both extremely special so I’m very lucky to be able to say I’ve won both.’
Waterford-based trainer Henry De Bromhead, who will be saddling Minella Times again this afternoon, has also been quick to praise his jockey. ‘She’s extremely professional and works extremely hard,’ he says. ‘Horses want to run for her.’
Today’s coverage on ITV begins with the Virtual Grand National 2022 at 1pm, as Nick Luck and Alice Plunkett see if a computer can forecast the outcome of the most unpredictable race in the UK. Commentary is provided by Stewart Machin.
Then, the action on the ‘real’ course begins as Francesca Cumani and Ed Chamberlin present coverage of the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, the Maghull Novices’ Chase, Liverpool Hurdle and Betway Handicap Chase.
Despite being high-class races, they are just hors d’oeuvres to the main course – 174th running of the Grand National Handicap Steeple Chase.
Throughout the afternoon, there will be analysis from National-winning jockeys AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Mick Fitzgerald, as well as reports by Alice Plunkett, Matt Chapman and Luke Harvey.
Brian Gleeson is in the ring with betting updates, while Chris Hughes presents social stable news.
Commentators Richard Hoiles, Mark Johnson and Ian Bartlett have the difficult job of calling the horses home.
If Blackmore and De Bromhead are to repeat last year’s National success with Minella Times, the horse will have to see off his stablemate Chris’s Dream, as well as JP McManus pair, Enjoy D’Allen, and Any Second Now.
One horse who sadly won’t be competing at Aintree is Tiger Roll. The legendary two-time National winner has been retired following his defeat to another of Gordon Elliott’s horses, Delta Work (who is running today), in the cross-country chase at Cheltenham last month.
The Grand National is seen as the perfect place to have a flutter and try your hand at betting, and in the punters’ eyes, Minella Times will be the one to beat.
With superstar Blackmore on board, millions of occasional betters around the country will no doubt be having an each-way punt on the pair.