TIDAL BAY CAN become the first top weight since Red Rum in 1977 — and, at 13 the oldest horse in over 90 years — to win the world’s greatest steeplechase, the Grand National today.
Tidal Bay, who would be the same age as Sergeant Murphy when he won in 1923, will face 39 rivals including former 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Long Run over the fearsome 30 fences, which despite being modified over the years still represent the greatest challenge in jumps racing.
Tidal Bay has got better with age and this season he has finished third in the Welsh National and a fine second in the Irish Gold Cup.
While his previous foray in the National saw him get only as far as the 10th fence, trainer Paul Nicholls, who won with Neptune Collonges in 2012, has always believed in his chances and his jockey Sam Twiston-Davies dismissed the doubts concerning him as being too old.
“Tidal Bay is no normal 13-year-old,” 21-year-old Twiston-Davies told BBC Sport.
“It wouldn’t worry me at all about his age and what the statistics say. His form is very solid. He was second in an English Hennessy, then an Irish one.
“If anything the handicapper has given him a bit of a chance.”
Long Run should give Tidal Bay a run for his money at Aintree, but the Nicky Henderson-trained horse has looked a shadow of the class act he was in previous years and his tendency to go in low to ordinary fences could cause him problems.
However, his amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen is a master over the fences and showed that again on Thursday when riding in the colours of his father Robert he guided Warne to victory in the amateurs Grand National, The Foxhunters Chase for his third win in the race.
Waley-Cohen, who has a good record in the National having finished second, fourth and fifth in four starts, said he believes his gallant little horse will take to the fences.
- Headgear not required -
“I think the size of the fences and the fact they are something he’s never seen before will help with his concentration, I don’t think he’ll need any headgear,” said the 31-year-old, who is a dentist by profession.
“It’s a race that has been very kind to me and as Long Run has had such an impact on the life of everybody in our family, it would be amazing if he could win it.”
For Henderson the National represents the one major race he has yet to win despite going close on several occasions and the 63-year-old has another live contender in Triolo d’Alene, who won the top class Hennessy Gold Cup last November.
Waley-Cohen for his part believes Teaforthree represents the greatest danger, and a decent run in the Gold Cup suggests he can improve on last year’s third place behind outsider Auroras Encore.
Teaforthree’s trainer Rebecca Curtis — who is bidding to give Wales their first winner since Kirkland in 1905 — calls him a horse in a lifetime but says winning would not make it special because she would be only the third woman to train the winner after Jenny Pitman (1983 and ’95) and Venetia Williams in 2009.
“I don’t think it makes a difference what sex you are as long as you’re doing all right,” the 33-year-old told the Daily Mail.
“It’s results everyone notices. I don’t think being a woman trainer is seen as out of the ordinary anymore because there’s plenty of female trainers who do as well as the men.”
Others to consider as live chances would be champion jockey AP McCoy’s mount Double Seven — bidding to give the Irish their first win since Silver Birch in 2007 and trained by 2006 winning trainer Martin Brassil — Monbeg Dude, co-owned by former England rugby captain Mike Tindall, and Balthazar King, who is unbeaten this season.