Hello and welcome to our coverage of the 2014 Grand National, otherwise known as the greatest steeplechase in the world. We’re an hour away from the big start at Aintree, so how about some Grand National facts and trivia to set a suitably equine scene?
Today is the 167th staging of the race following the inaugural National in 1839. The first race was won by a nine-year-old by the name of Lottery while last year’s champion was dramatically won by 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore, which made it a rather good day indeed for the bookies.
Speaking of betting, an estimated £250 million will be wagered on today’s race with half of the UK population expected to have a flutter. Recession? What recession?
Today’s runners will have to get over 30 fences and cover four miles, three furlongs and 110 yards at Aintree. Unless there’s an impromptu strike by the jockeys and their rides, it will take them just over nine minutes.
The National is of course a UK institution but it’s also jolly popular around the world and live coverage of the race will be screened in 84 countries.
The two most famous fences on the course – The Chair and Becher’s Brook – are also the most underused. The 28 other fences are jumped twice during the race but The Chair and Becher’s are vaulted just once.
So who is your money on? With such a big field and the vagaries of the Aintree fences, even the experts acknowledge picking the winner at the National is far from an exact science and if we’re being honest here, 99% of punters tend to plump for a name they like.
If you haven’t made your mind up, here’s a full list of the 40 runners and riders. Not that we are encouraging frivolous gambling you understand...
TIDAL BAY (Sam Twiston-Davies)
LONG RUN (Sam Waley-Cohen)
HUNT BALL (Andrew Tinkler)
TRIOLO D'ALENE (Barry Geraghty)
ROCKY CREEK (Noel Fehily)
QUITO DE LA ROQUE (Brian O'Connell)
COLBERT STATION (Mark Walsh)
WALKON (Wayne Hutchison)
BALTHAZAR KING (Richard Johnson)
WAYWARD PRINCE (Jack Doyle)
MR MOONSHINE (Ryan Mania)
TEAFORTHREE (Nick Scholfield)
ACROSS THE BAY (Henry Brooke)
DOUBLE SEVEN (AP McCoy)
BATTLE GROUP (Brendan Powell)
BUCKERS BRIDGE (Andrew Lynch)
LION NA BEARNAI (Davy Russell)
PRINCE DE BEAUCHENE (Paul Townend)
MONBEG DUDE (Paul Carberry)
BIG SHU (Peter Buchanan)
BURTON PORT (Brian Harding)
OUR FATHER (Denis O'Regan)
MOUNTAINOUS (Jamie Moore)
THE RAINBOW HUNTER (Aidan Coleman)
VINTAGE STAR (Brian Hughes)
CHANCE DU ROY (Tom O'Brien)
HAWKES POINT (Ryan Mahon)
KRUZHLININ (Wilson Renwick)
PINEAU DE RE (Leighton Aspell)
GOLAN WAY (Michael Byrne)
TWIRLING MAGNET (Richie McLernon)
VESPER BELL (Katie Walsh)
THE PACKAGE (Tom Scudamore)
RAZ DE MAREE (Davy Condon)
ROSE OF THE MOON (Jake Greenall)
SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM (David Bass)
ALVARADO (Paul Moloney)
LAST TIME D'ALBAIN (Robbie Colgan)
ONE IN A MILAN (Adam Wedge)
SWING BILL (Conor O'Farrell)
If there was a prize (which there isn’t) for the best named horse, it would surely have to go to Shakalakaboomboom while Walkon is bound to attract a few flutters from Liverpudlian punters.
From a purely selfish perspective I’m hoping Shakalakaboomboom doesn’t feature too prominently today as it’s an absolute bugger to type. In fact, in the interest of brevity, we'll call him Shaka for he rest of the afternoon, OK?
It's raining in Liverpool by the way. Not exactly a Biblical downpour but you know, it's wet.
At the grand old age of 13 Tidal Bay, ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, would become the oldest winner of the National for more than 90 years if he gets over the line first this afternoon and the first top weight champion since some horse called Red Rum in the 1970s.
I tell a bit of a lie. The rain seems to be clearing, which is obviously excellent news for all the ladies who got their hair done specially for the occasion. The latest news from Aintree is the going is good-to-soft, good in places.
Channel 4 have splashed out on a helicopter for the day and we're getting some splendid aerial shots of the course. Hopefully it won't spook the horses...
Punters favourite AP McCoy is on Double Seven today. The legendary Irishman famously won the race on Don’t Push it in 2010 but it’s also worth remembering his 17 other National outings haven’t finished with victory. Still, can’t imagine that will dissuade his legion of fans from reaching for their wallets today.
“I am trying to convince myself fate is with Double Seven as he is number 14 and is also 14-1,” McCoy said earlier today. “He has it all going on. I am trying to convince myself it might work.”
Latest odds, you say? Teaforthree and Double Seven are joint favourites at 10-1. Long Run is 12-1, Balthazar King has shortened from 16s to 14-1 and there's five horses all at 16-1.
We have just one female jockey in the race today and that’s Katie Walsh on Vesper Bell. She came third on Seabass two years ago so she certainly knows her way around Aintree. The race is still waiting for its first winner from the fairer sex...
Some of the horses are beginning to emerge from the stables, others appear to be leaving it to the last minute to come out. Psychological mind games? Probably not. Twenty minutes to go folks...
Mandatory interview with Zara Phillips about how MIke Tindall bought Monbeg Dude by mistake and she was jolly cross about it all. It's a good story but I think we've all heard it now.
Teaforthree strolling through the parade ground. Looks extremely calm and collected, clearly oblivious to the amount of money riding on him...
Old-timer Tidal Bay follows him, looking a touch more animated. Agitated even. Ironic considering he's the most experienced horse in the field.
All the jockeys are out and lining up for a 'team photo'
Most of the jockeys looking distinctly nervous as they wait to saddle up. To be fair, given Aintree's fearsome reputation, they've got every reason to apprehensive.
Choir of the Military Wives belting out 'God Save The Queen', including the rarely sung second verse which I must confess I don't know the words to.
Horses and jockeys are now united and making their way to the starting line.
Less than 10 minutes to go now. Still time to have a little flutter...
Lots of talk about Long Run in the build-up to the race and whether he can become the first horse since L'Escargot to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year.
Teaforthree now standalone favourite at 10-1. Kruzhlinin rank outsider at 100-1.
Horses warming up with a gentle canter on the course. The grandstands are packed and we're almost ready to roll.
OK, they're bunching up and approaching the starting line. Will they get off first time? No, the starter tells them it's not time yet...
They're off this time... no! False start, the marshalls wave their flags and they're pulled up.
Fingers being pointed at Battle Group, who was reluctant to start.
They go this time but Battle Group refuses to race.
Over the first and Twirling Magnet falls
Over the third and Big Shu tumbles
Approaching Becher's *gulp*
Tidal Bay is down after the Canal Turn, so is Rainbow Hunter