Saturday's 169th running of the Crabbie’s Grand National, with its new later start time of 5.15pm, looks set to be watched by a staggering global audience in excess of 600m.
Channel 4’s coverage will also be viewed by more than 30,000 British troops and personnel serving overseas thanks to a deal between British Forces Broadcasting Services, Racecourse Media Group and Channel 4.
While Irish jockeys and Irish-bred horses have always enjoyed considerable success in the Grand National, there have only been 24 winners trained from across the Irish Sea, despite plenty of runners from the beginning in 1839.
Silver Birch was the last Irish-trained runner to land this historic prize nearly a decade ago, but I’ve got a sneaky feeling with so much rain in the air that GOONYELLA can improve on the Emerald Isle’s record.
Jim Dreaper’s nine-year-old will be making his third trip to Aintree having competed in both the 2014 and 2015 renewals of the Becher Chase.
He got no further than the first when unseating on his debut here, but did at least complete when a remote ninth behind Highland Lodge last time.
On paper, that last piece of form appears well below what is required to be competitive off his current mark around here, but it’s the extra mile that will play to his strengths.
Of all the runners in this year’s race, he is the one most suited by the marathon trip and the one most suited by any more rain.
In short, the softer the better and the more of a slog the race turns out to be, the better his chances.
The three times he has run over trips in excess of 3m 6f or further, he has either won or been second.
They include wins in last year’s Midlands Grand National and a gallant second place on ground that would have been too quick in last season’s Scottish Grand National.
Freely available at around the 20/1, he looks a decent each-way bet.
In all the years I have been watching the Grand National, I can never remember a horse with seven Grade One victories to his name lining up amongst the 40 runners.
Whether or not SILVINIACO CONTI will or won’t stay this trip is hugely open to debate, but one thing for certain is that if he does he will be a tough nut to crack.
Not only is he a tremendous jumper, Paul Nicholls’ runner also has an extraordinarily impressive record at Aintree.
Form figures at this meeting of 1311 suggest that he is particularly at home here and if he takes to these fences he is a threat to them all.
If the rain does arrive in the early hours of tomorrow morning as expected, I have to include Betway ambassador Davy Russell’s mount MORNING ASSEMBLY at around the 25/1 mark.
He was classy on his day and ran an eye-catching trial at the Cheltenham Festival.
Stamina once again is a slight concern, but his pilot is a master at preserving reserves and he can go well.
Finally, even though I hugely respect the chances of last year’s winner Many Clouds, I’m going to leave him out of my four purely on grounds of price.
He was obviously an impressive winner 12 months ago and, as eye-catching as he was in his trail, Red Rum remains the last horse to win two years on the bounce.
For that reason, I’ll take a chance on the unexposed French-bred UCELLO CONTI who has stepped up on all three of his runs for Gordon Elliott.
Any rain won’t bother him and he could give Daryl Jacob a great spin over these fences at around 25/1.
Bill Esdaile’s National 1-2-3-4
2 Silviniaco Conti
3 Morning Assembly
4 Ucello Conti