STRIDING forward with purpose and silhouetted against the breaking sun, these are the two Yorkshire steeplechasers hoping to make Grand National history today for trainer Sue Smith and her showjumping husband Harvey.
If the consistent Mr Moonshine or the progressive Vintage Star do prevail, their High Eldwick yard will become the first in 40 years to win successive renewals of the world’s greatest steeplechase since Ginger McCain’s Red Rum recorded his second triumph in 1974.
As well as the ability to jump 30 fences, and stay the four-mile three-furlong course, both horses will also need luck – Mr Moonshine’s jockey Ryan Mania, victorious 12 months ago on the now retired Auroras Encore, was fortunate to emerge relatively unscathed yesterday after being unseated from Tahiti Pearl when leading the Topham Trophy field over Becher’s Brook and appearing to be kicked by a pursuing horse.
While the 25-year-old then rode Seeyouatmidnight to third in the next race, other Topham jockeys were less fortunate ahead of the first National in 167 years to carry a prize fund of £1m.
Both Paul Carberry and Mikey Fogarty, who ride Monbeg Dude and Vesper Belle respectively, were taken to hospital for X-rays, with the latter being ruled out of today’s big race.
Malton-born Andrew Tinkler and Noel Fehily will also have to pass the doctor’s assessment today before they can partner Hunt Ball and Rocky Creek respectively.
However Smith, 66, says her two horses are “in very good order”. She added: “We’ve taken more or less the same route as we did last year. Mr Moonshine has jumped twice round there and jumped exceptionally well.
“Vintage Star has never jumped the fences, although he jumped very well in schooling.”
It is emblematic of the National’s glorious uncertainty that both Mr Moonshine and Vintage Star are better horses than Auroras Encore, who is recovering well after suffering a career-ending leg injury at the end of January.
Yet these athletic chasers will be just two of 40 horses trying to defy history in a race that dates back to 1839 when the aptly-named Lottery was victorious.
If the Rebecca Curtis-trained Teaforthree wins, and last year’s third is today’s likely favourite, he will be the first Welsh-trained victor since Kirkland in 1905.
Should top weight Tidal Bay, a high-profile Wetherby winner last November for his young jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, triumph, the veteran will be the first 13-year-old to conquer Aintree since Sergeant Murphy in 1923.
However, the weight of history is slightly less daunting for the 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run, whose amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen has a better record over Aintree’s fences than every professional jockey riding in today’s race. It is 39 years since L’Escargot became the last horse to win Cheltenham’s blue riband race and then the National.
Today’s build-up will inevitably revolve around former Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude, whose owners include Otley-born rugby international Mike Tindall.
A £12,000 purchase by Tindall when he bid for the horse in error at an auction, it has been schooled by his wife Zara Phillips as the Royal family hopes for a change of luck – the Queen Mother’s Devon Loch had the race at his mercy in 1956 when he came to grief on the run-in.
This is the one horse that the betting industry fears as bookmakers brace themselves for a £200m betting bonanza on their busiest day of the year.
Leeds-based William Hill expect to receive more than 5.5 million bets at a rate of 12,000 per minute thanks to online and mobile technology. Spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke says £30m will be wagered with the firm alone. He said: “In terms of the race itself, Auroras Encore was our best ever result last year and we’re looking for a similar result.”
He said interest surrounding the Michael Scudamore-trained Monbeg Dude and the horse’s celebrity connections was only going to intensify today.
However, it is Scudamore’s older brother Tom who has every chance of fulfilling his lifelong dream by partnering the 11-year-old, The Package, to victory.
The jockey is enjoying a career-best season and offered this confident assessment: “He’s an older horse with more experience and I see no reason why he can’t go and win a National.”
Third at Cheltenham, this form is now even more appealing after the victor Holywell won a Grade One novice chase at Aintree yesterday under AP McCoy and entered next year’s Gold Cup calculations.
A wide open race, The Package is the one to beat with Mr Moonshine and Vintage Star offering great each-way value and Monbeg Dude the most appealing of the favourites if his jumping holds up – the test that every horse must pass in sport’s greatest lottery.