KATIE Walsh, Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore all line up in the Randox Health Grand National – but the prize on offer to them at Aintree is greater than the £500,000 winner’s cheque.
This will be the 189th running of the world’s greatest steeplechase, but a female rider has yet to pass the post first – a statistic any of this excellent trio would be delighted to defy.
Walsh posted the best result yet from a female rider when finishing third back in 2012 and appears to have a leading chance again as she teams up with husband Ross O’Sullivan with the gambled-on Baie Des Iles who will relish the heavy going.
Walsh, whose older brother Ruby is a two-time National winner, said: “We’re hoping she will take to the fences and she is a really solid jumper.
“It’s always very difficult to have a horse for the Grand National, but she has an attractive profile and is relatively unexposed.”
While Walsh, whose previous big race wins include an Irish National on Thunder And Roses, is no stranger to the challenge, Bryony Frost will be having her first spin in the big race following a breakthrough season.
She teams up with Milansbar, who is following in the hoofprints of last year’s winner One For Arthur after claiming the Classic Chase at Warwick on what has been his only start with Frost in the plate.
Frost said: “He’s intelligent, he decides what to do with his stride. He would be more tentative than brave, which is exactly what you need because a brave horse could land on top of it.
“As long as he’s thinking for me and I can keep him happy and in a rhythm, then (you need) a lot of luck and you can see where you go. You have to be on the same page and that’s what gives you so much of the buzz.
“We’re all up there with the same chance – it doesn’t matter if you’re 100-1 or the favourite – you’ve all got to go on the same ground over the same fences and hope for the best of luck.”
Frost is no stranger to the National obstacles, having finished fourth in the Foxhunters’ last year, and she can also draw upon the experience of her father Jimmy, who won the race in 1989 on Little Polveir.
It will be Blackmore’s first visit to Aintree and one she cannot wait to experience after getting the call to ride Alpha Des Obeaux for leading owners Gigginstown House Stud and 2016 National-winning trainer Mouse Morris.
“I’m very excited and very grateful to get the opportunity. It’s my first time to Aintree so I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.
“Mouse rang me on Saturday and said I was going to ride him, I was absolutely over the moon and hopefully we can run a good race.”
Horse and rider teamed up to good effect in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, when sixth to Edwulf.
“I rode him in Leopardstown, but Aintree is obviously very different so it poses a lot more challenges,” she said. “Fingers crossed he gets a clear run round and hopefully he’ll run a big race.”
However top-weight Minella Rocco, Vicente and Beeves were all declared non-runners yesterday on account of the ground.
Their places were taken by Thunder And Roses, Walk In The Mill and Sue Smith’s Yorkshire challenger Delusionofgrandeur.
She needed just one more runner to be withdrawn for the admirably consistent Vintage Clouds to make the line-up by the 1pm deadline.
“I’d have been more delighted if I’d have got Vintage Clouds in as well, but there you go, it was not to be,” she said. “We’ve aimed all three horses with the same work and everything for the Grand National, so all three were ready to come here.”
In the Grade One races. Leyburn trainer Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner runs in the Stayers’ Hurdle while Lady Buttons, an exciting mare with Catterick trainer Phil Kirby, lines up in the novice chase.