Rathvinden and Ruby to foil Tiger's back-to-back raid
A snapshot of the last 20 runnings of the Randox Health Grand National (5.15) highlights the scale of the task facing Gordon Elliott's reigning champion Tiger Roll at Aintree today in the world's greatest steeplechase.
Six of the those 20 winners didn't even return to defend their crown while the second-place finishes of Hedgehunter (2006) and Comply Or Die (2009) were the nearest to completing the famous feat of back-to-back victories, not achieved since the mighty Red Rum did so in 1973-'74.
Tiger Roll (11-5) - which carries 6lb more than 12 months ago - comes here in the form of his glittering career having backed up an effortless Grade Two hurdle win with a bloodless 22-length success in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham to notch his fourth Festival win.
There's so much to like about Davy Russell's mount but the one thing that's hard to be attracted to is the nine-year-old's prohibitive odds in a 40-runner cavalry charge over more than four miles with 30 difficult jumps to be negotiated, and his historic bid may come up just short.
The all-conquering Willie Mullins has four runners - including last year's runner-up Pleasant Company, which hasn't shown that type of form this season and races off 7lb higher under Gold Cup-winning pilot Paul Townend - but the one of most interest is Rathvinden, which will relish this stamina test having landed the four-miler at last year's Festival.
Mullins's only National victory came with Hedgehunter in 2005 and he has laid out the son of Heron Island for the Liverpool showpiece since Cheltenham 13 months ago with success in last month's Bobbyjo Chase proving his rude health on his seasonal reappearance.
The cream is invariably rising to the top in recent runnings of the National so being allotted 11st is not the weighty issue it once was, with five of the last 10 winners carrying 11st or more to victory.
Being an 11-year-old was seen as a negative up until recent years but Neptune Collonges (2011), Auroras Encore (2012) and Pineau De Re (2013) have proved that to be folly and the assistance of Walsh - bidding for his third National win - make him a stand-out selection to foil Tiger Roll at odds of around 10/1.
Tony Martin's Anibale Fly (11-10), 11 lengths back in fourth last year, carries top weight but is the class act having chased home Al Boum Photo in last month's Gold Cup.
However, with only three weeks between two huge races - there were four last year - it's a stiff task.
Owner Trevor Hemmings has taken the prize three times in the last 14 years and his two most-fancied candidates - Sue Smith's Vintage Clouds and Nick Alexander's Lake View Lad - are respected but others are preferred to be in the mix.
One of those is Robert Walford's Walk In The Mill. Knowing that your selection handles the National fences is a massive plus and following a commanding Becher Chase win over 3m2f in December, the nine-year-old can make the frame.
James Best's mount has a handy racing weight of 10-4 while Valseur Lido is one that may trouble the judge at huge odds.
Eighth last year when carrying 11-7, he returns off 10-6 for the red-hot Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
Blackmore is already on the board this week as she bids to become the first female jockey to land the Grand National in its 172nd running, with Katie Walsh's third-place finish aboard Seabass in 2012 the best female finish to date.
Despite losing Outlander and Don Poli - sold by Gigginstown for a combined total just shy of €400,000 on Thursday and which will compete for new connections today - Elliott overtakes former boss Martin Pipe with a record 11 runners.
Many are difficult to assess but while Jury Duty is unproven at this extreme trip, there's a lot to like about the American National winner and after pleasing over 3m2f at Down Royal last month, the Galway Plate third can run into a place.
David Pipe's Vieux Lion Rouge fits the bill for those looking for a horse to complete at a big price having finished his six runs over these fences, while it would be no surprise to see Magic Of Light - Jessica Harrington's first Aintree Grand National runner - defy odds of 100/1.