The Grand National is the most prestigious race in the world for jumps racing, making it the jewel in the crown for every jockey, trainer and owner in the sport.

Preparation for the meeting begins at the start of the National Hunt season, where trainers will be readying their charges for a run at the major races at the end of the term.

It is the most prized race for a reason. The Aintree course is the most difficult in jumps racing, providing 30 daunting fences for horse and jockey to clear. Becher’s Brook, The Chair and Foinavon deliver the toughest test to all competitors in the meet.

Only the elite horses can combine the stamina and speed to emerge with the victory over four miles and 514 yards of the event. Race favourites have come unstuck in the meet – only seven have triumphed in the National since the Second World War.

Tiger Roll will be aiming to become the first horse to win as the favourite since Don’t Push It in 2010, after being established as the leading contender to defend his crown in the horse racing betting odds.

Gordon Elliott’s charge won the National by a head in 2018, seeing off Pleasant Company on the line by a head after dominating for the majority of the contest.

However, it has not been a happy venue for favourites of the past and we’ll now look back at why the leading contenders have failed to deliver the ultimate success when given the backing of the bookies.

 

Hedgehunter

Willie Mullins’ charge almost became the first horse to win the event in back-to-back years since Red Rum achieved the feat in 1974.

He made his debut in the National in 2004 and was in prime position to make a run at victory, only to fall at the final hurdle to allow Amberleigh House to take the crown.

Hedgehunter returned for 2005, having triumphed at the Bobbyjo Chase to take momentum into the race and he was the favourite for the victory. He put forward a dominant performance to win the National, finishing 14 lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

Expectations were raised for the following season, and Mullins opted to gamble by placing his charge in the running for the Cheltenham Gold Cup along with the National.

Although Hedgehunter performed well in the Gold Cup, he lost out by two-and-a-half lengths to War of Attrition. At the age of ten, Mullins’ charge was in the prime of his jumping career.

He was expected to duel it out for Clan Royal for the crown, with both horses considered joint-favourites in the horse racing odds at 5/1 at the start of the race. Hedgehunter manoeuvred himself into position with three fences remaining in the contest after a clean ride.

However, unlike the previous year, he lacked the speed down the stretch and could not match the surge of Numbersixvalverde to lose out on a historic successive triumph by six lengths.

 

Butler's Cabin

Butler’s Cabin was a surprise choice as the favourite for the Grand National in 2009. Jonjo O’Neill’s charge was not in the best of form heading into the event, failing to win a race in almost two years.

He did have pedigree in elite competitions, however, having triumphed in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2007, producing a strong outing to claim the win by three-quarters of a length.

The French-bred horse carried that momentum into the Irish Grand National. At Fairyhouse, with AP McCoy in the saddle, he rose to the occasion to claim the crown as a 14/1 shout in the horse racing betting odds.

Although that display was two years prior to the event at Aintree, Butler’s Cabin had the confidence of the bookies, despite an underwhelming 2008/09 campaign in the National Hunt.

He finished fifth in his last outing at the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham Festival and his lack of form was evident as McCoy struggled to guide his charge into contention.

Mon Mome surprised everyone in the field with a brilliant ride as a 100/1 outsider, beating the rest of the field by 12 lengths.

His victory highlighted the difficulty in predicting the National as he lacked form and a previous notable win to enhance his credentials before the meet. The race was Butler's Cabin final act in his professional career.

 

Red Rum

Red Rum was already a legend by the time he arrived for the National in 1975. Ginger McCain’s charge was pursuing his third crown on the bounce; a feat that had never been achieved in the history of the prestigious event.

His first victory two years previously was a slight surprise as he mounted a furious comeback to defeat the Australian thoroughbred Crisp by three-quarters of a length.

Red Rum successfully defended his crown in 1974, although he was not considered the favourite for the race, being considered behind Scout in the sport betting odds.

888Sport

However, Red Rum was able to dominate the rest of the field to finish ahead of his rival L'Escargot, earning his place in the history of the National.

There was no surprise to see him installed as the favourite for the crown in 1975. It wasn't to be, however, as L'Escargot ended Red Rum’s winning run, denying him the most wins at the event – at the time - by producing a special outing.

The 12-year-old was a fine horse in his own right and only a flawless display was good enough to defeat the legendary Red Rum. L'Escargot had a surge down the stretch to see out the win by 15 lengths, taking his place in the winners’ enclosure.

Of course, Red Rum returned in 1977 to add to a third jewel to his crown, etching his place as the greatest horse in National history. However, he never managed to win the meet as the favourite.

 

West Tip

West Tip's first appearance at the National in 1985 ended with a fall at Becher’s Brook.

However, like Hedgehunter, he put his disappointment behind him and returned in 1986 – not as the favourite – to win the event by two lengths ahead of 66/1 outsider Young Driver.

The performance, and his form over the next season, saw him declared as the leading contender in the horse racing betting odds for the race in 1987. West Tip was backed at 5/1 – a narrow price for the National.

Richard Dunwoody kept his charge in contention throughout the race, positioning his horse in the middle of the pack before making his move two fences before the end of the meet. However, he did not have the kick needed to challenge the leaders in the field.

He faded down the stretch on this occasion as Maori Venture took the crown, forcing him to settle for fourth place.

West Tip would finish fourth in 1988 and second in 1989, becoming a legend of Aintree due to the quality of his performances in the National, although he only managed to win it once during his illustrious career and never as the favourite.

 

*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*

About the Author
By
888sport

The 888sport blog, based at 888 Towers in the heart of London, employs an army of betting and tipping experts for your daily punting pleasure, as well as an irreverent, and occasionally opinionated, look at the absolute madness that is the world of sport.