Which trainer and jockey combination was placed in seven consecutive renewals of the Grand National?

Despite numerous safety improvements down the years, the Grand National at Aintree can still, justifiably, be called ‘the ultimate test for horse and rider’. Indeed, many jockeys and trainers spend their whole careers attempting to win, or at least be placed in, the celebrated steeplechase. Of course, some jockeys and trainers are luckier than others, but to be placed in seven consecutive renewals, with three different horses, is no mean feat. That was the achievement of Vale of Glamorgan trainer Evan Williams and his erstwhile – now retired – stable jockey between 2009 and 2014 inclusive.

Interestingly, all three horses carried the blue and pink colours of Worcestershire owners Mr. & Mrs. William Rucker. State Of Play started the extraordinary run of good fortune for his connections by finishing fourth in 2009, third in 2010 and fourth again in 2011. Next into the Aintree unsaddling enclosure was Cappa Bleu, who finished fourth behind Neptune Collonges in 2012 and went one better when third behind Auroras Encore in 2013. Finally, completing the unlikely septet came Alvarado, who filled fourth place behind Pineau De Re in 2014 and occupied the same position behind Many Clouds in 2015.

Will Tiger Roll run in the 2021 Grand National?

At the time of writing, the 2021 Grand National is still over twelve months away so, frankly, whether or not Tiger Roll will attempt to become the first horse to record a hat-trick in the Aintree marathon in 2021 is anybody’s guess. Of course, Tiger Roll was ante-post favourite, at 8/1 or thereabouts, for the 2020 Grand National prior to its cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, but can be backed at 20/1 for the 2021 renewal.

Nevertheless, trainer Gordon Elliott has already said that there is ‘every chance’ of Tiger Roll running in the Grand National in 2021. He is, after all, still only a ten-year-old – which means that he will be the same age as recent National winners Pineau De Re, Auroras Encore and Neptune Collonges by the time next April rolls around – and, granted that he has been restricted to just eleven starts in the last three National Hunt seasons, has hardly been overraced.

Of course, owner Michael O’Leary announced, shortly after winning the Grand National for a second time with Tiger Roll, and the third time in all, in 2019, that he would be winding down his Gigginstown House Stud operation over the next four or five years. Even so, Tiger Roll has time on his side so, who knows, he may yet attempt to achieve racing immortality.

What was the largest field ever assembled for the Grand National?

Nowadays, the safety limit for the Grand National is 40 runners, but the largest field ever assembled was 66 in 1929. A photograph of the start shows the record number of starters stretched out, in one long line, across the entire width of the Aintree track.

The 1929 Grand National was also notable as the first renewal after the filling in of the ditch that had previously preceded the Canal Turn, which had been the site of the biggest pile-up in National history the previous year. Indeed, one of the horses that contributed to the melee, Easter Hero, was sent off clear favourite at 9/2 in 1929, despite carrying the welter burden of 12st 7lb. In any event, Easter Hero finished second, beaten 6 lengths, by Gregalach, who became the second 100/1 winner in the history of the Grand National and, remarkably, the second consecutive 100/1 winner after Tipperary Tim in 1929.

Of the 66 starters, nine horses – including three 200/1 outsiders, Melleray’s Belle, Delarue and Kilbairn – completed the course. There was, however, one casualty; Stort, another 200/1 outsider, nearly unseated rider at the first fence, did so at the third fence, fell, when loose, at the Canal Turn on the first circuit and fell again, fatally, at the twelfth fence.

What, and where, is the Melling Road?

Ever since the Grand National was first broadcast on television, in 1960, the Melling Road, along with the ‘named’ fences, such as Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn, has crept into the public psyche as part of the familiar Aintree infrastructure. The National Course crosses the Melling Road at two points.

The first is on the approach to the first, and seventeenth, fence, while the second is after the twelfth, and twenty-eighth, fence. The second, near the Anchor Bridge, marks the point where the runners rejoin the ‘racecourse proper’ and, on the second circuit, where the race really begins in earnest. Indeed, back in the days when the Grand National was televised on BBC, it was the point at which John Hanmer handed commentary ‘over to Peter O’Sullevan’, who traditionally called home the winner.

Obviously, the Melling Road is best known for its association with the Grand National, but is a bona fide, mile-long thoroughfare through the village of Aintree. On National Day, the road is covered with Fibresand to allow the horses to cross safely.

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