When Americans think of horse racing, they will throw images of the battles at breakneck speed on the turf at Belmont Park or Churchill Downs. For the British, racing is viewed in a slightly different manner. In a way, there are two seasons of racing. The summer months are defined by the great flat races, the pomp and ceremony of Royal Ascot and the big international races like the Epsom Derby and 2000 Guineas.
The winter and spring, however, are reserved for national hunt racing. For those outside of the UK and Ireland, it’s almost an archaic sport. Races are often two or three miles long, with the added obstacles of hurdles, water jumps and fences. It’s tough on the jockeys, adored by its fans.
On Saturday April 6th, the national hunt season will reach its climax with its showpiece event – the Aintree Grand National. 40 horses will line up for a trek of over four miles, with 30 fences to navigate, some of which are nearly six feet tall.
Grand National spans across three centuries
The race has been going for almost two centuries, becoming part of culture in Britain, even attracting those who do not normally bet on or watch horse racing. In fact, tag it as “the race that stops a nation”, with countless bars, clubs and living rooms across the country tuning into catch the action.
This year, the race has taken a whole new significance, however. It stems from the form of the 2018 winner, Tiger Roll. The 9-year-old horse, trained by mercurial Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, is seen as having a very good chance in doing something that hasn’t been done in 45 years – win two consecutive Grand Nationals.
Such a feat is on a par with winning the Triple Crown in US racing, although it’s arguably even more difficult than that. Only a handful of horses have won more than one Grand National throughout history, and only the legendary three-time winner Red Rum has achieved it since the Second World War.
Favorite has taken around a quarter of all bets
Tiger Roll is given odds of 4/1 by Betfair to do the prestigious double, a price that has tumbled down from 20/1 just a few weeks ago. As the odds of the favorites tend to tighten as we get closer to the race, it’s likely we could see the shortest priced winner of the event in 100 years.
However, one of the reasons the Grand National retains its popularity with non-racing fans is that there is always a feeling that anyone can win it, as evidenced by the winners we have seen at 100/1 and 66/1 in recent years.
For that reason, horses like Blaklion (40/1, William Hill), Ballyoptic (50/1, various), Captain Redbeard (50/1, Unibet) and Tea For Two (80/1, Bet365), who can be backed with these Grand National free bet offers, are all getting plenty of attention in the ante-post betting markets. Moreover, trainers of horses like Anibale Fly and Rathvinden (both 12/1) will also believe they have the form to beat Tiger Roll.
In terms of what the fans want to see, all the momentum is with Tiger Roll. He has become a kind of people’s champion, like a Seabiscuit, who is able to pull his best out of the bag for the biggest races. On Saturday evening, the nation will hold its collective breath as it waits to find out of Tiger Roll can write his name in the history books.