Seabass and Walsh could land bookmakers with huge losses

TWO of the greatest surnames in jump racing history – McCoy and Walsh – dominate the build-up to today’s John Smith’s Grand National in which the public gamble is expected to top £200m.

McCoy, the record-breaking 17-times champion who ended his 15-year National hoodoo three years ago, rides Colbert Station, which has been one of the most-backed horses in the Aintree showpiece after he opted to ride the Ted Walsh-trained runner.

Yet Walsh’s two children, Ruby and Katie, are also disputing 
favouritism with their well-fancied mounts.

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The former rides the Willie Mullins-trained On His Own, who fell at Becher’s Brook last year when travelling ominously well. The same fate afflicted West Tip in 1985 before he prevailed 12 months later under Richard Dunwoody, the former champion jockey, who believes history will repeat itself.

Meanwhile Walsh’s talented sister Katie will ride Seabass after a dream ride last year when she finished third – the best result achieved by a female rider in the history of a race that was first run in 1839.

There is added poignancy in that Seabass is trained by her father Ted and the pair are still coming to terms with the loss of Battlefront in the Fox Hunters Chase on Thursday from a suspected heart attack.

With safety paramount following four equine fatalities in the last two Nationals, and Little Josh’s tragic death yesterday, the Aintree course was again being watered last night to ensure good to soft going for today’s ultimate test.

Much focus will be on the need for an orderly start after this week’s two races over the National fences saw the runners recalled amid scenes resembling the false start fiasco of 20 years ago.

A 60,000-plus sell-out crowd is expected and Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: “Seabass, with Katie Walsh, was backed off the board last year. If she’s backed again, as we expect, there’s every chance she will be favourite and we will be staring down huge
liabilities. If McCoy wins on Colbert Station, that will be a dreadful result as well.

“On His Own should be 
favourite, but Colbert Station was backed down from 12-1 to 9-1 within 30 minutes of McCoy’s decision becoming public.”

A month short of his 39th birthday, McCoy is taking a gamble – the lightly-raced Colbert Station, owned by JP McManus, has only raced five times over fences and is one of the more inexperienced runners in today’s £975,000 contest.

This does not faze the champion, who could have ridden last year’s runner-up Sunnyhill Boy. “He’s won his last two races,” explained McCoy, who won Aintree’s two top novice hurdles yesterday with My Tent Or Yours and then At Fishers Cross.

“Colbert Station is a bit inexperienced, but a bit more unexposed, too. He won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas. It is not as good a race as the Grand National, but it’s very competitive in terms of hustle and bustle. With 30 runners it is like a mini-Grand National.

“For a horse that has little jumping experience, he has had the experience of a tough competitive chase. Hopefully he’s got a good chance.”

Ruby Walsh will be inducted into the Aintree hall of fame 
before seeking a third National win courtesy of On His Own.

The horse, who heads a formidably strong Irish challenge, has only raced once since last year’s National, but trainer Willie Mullins is unperturbed.

“I don’t think the drying ground will be any harm to him,” said Mullins, who also saddles Quel Esprit and Quiscover Fontaine as he attempts to replicate Hedgehunter’s success of 2005.

“He had a setback earlier in the season and because of that we haven’t been able to get three or four runs into him.”

Another Irish horse, Chicago Grey, has received sustained support – though jockey Paul Carberry must pass a fitness test this morning – while the Dessie Hughes-trained Rare Bob will have the assistance of Bryan Cooper, the rising star of racing.

The 2007 winning rider Robbie Power will be able to ride Irish-trained Joncol, despite being stood down yesterday for failing a routine alcohol breath test.

As well as Katie Walsh attempting to become the first female rider to win the race, other landmarks could be set.

Cappa Bleu is among those who could provide Wales with a first win since 1905 while Yorkshire will celebrate its first success in 53 years if Auroras Encore or Mr Moonshine prevail for Bingley trainer Sue Smith. “They’ve both been crying out for drying weather so the forecast ground should suit them well,” she said.

A swaggering performance saw Nicky Henderson’s sublime steeplechaser Sprinter Sacre extend his winning sequence to nine in the prestigious Melling Chase.

The win, part of a four-timer on the day, means Henderson is almost certain to regain the trainers’ title that he last won in the 1980s. He saddles Roberto Goldback in the National, the mount of Sprinter Sacre’s jockey Barry Geraghty.

On a spectacular afternoon of racing, David Pipe’s top novice also returned to winning ways in the Mildmay Chase under an ultra-confident Tom Scudamore.