Bookmaker Fitzdares rounds up the fairy tale stories from jump racing's showpiece as well, as those against-the-odds victories

Fitzdares gives its take on the Grand National — a race that can feel like a lottery to the uninitiated.

Find out how Red Rum launched sculptor Philip Blacker’s career or take a look at Grand Nationals across the nations.

Sporting Wager: Grand National

If there is one race on the calendar for which everybody wants a tip, it’s the Grand National. If there’s also one race on the calendar where there’s no such thing as a tip, it’s the Grand National. It is therefore appropriate that the first-ever winner of the race in 1839 was called Lottery. Talk about nominative determinism.

One race, two laps, 30 fences, 40 horses, 50-1 winners. This race is a numbers game and the odds are more stacked against you than the branches and leaves that support Becher’s Brook.The obstacles they are required to jump qualify it as a National Hunt or ‘jumps’ race. Before embarking on their four-mile 2½ furlong odyssey, the horses and jockeys gather in a disorganised team behind the rope, often culminating in a false start. This happened twice in 1993, yet 30 of the 39 runners blazed on. By the end of the race, seven had completed the two circuits and the race was declared null and void. The embarrassment of that episode lingers on. We still take bets each year on a repeat scenario.

However, on a normal year, they set off left-handed; that is to say, they jump and turn to their left as they gallop the distance. To qualify for the race, a horse must be at least seven years old, have a British Horseracing Authority rating of 120 or greater, have run in at least three recognised chases and have finished in the first four places in a three-mile race or longer. It may be a lottery but not everyone can buy a ticket.

The incentive is not just national glory but also £1m in prize money, making it the richest jumps race in the world. A sum that is dwarfed by the estimated betting stakes taken by bookmakers each year, peaking at roughly £300m in 2019. Plenty of which was handed back in spades when Tiger Roll won his second in a row. This year, he will attempt to emulate the most famous winner of this race, Red Rum. Trained by Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain, Red Rum won the race in 1973, 1974 and 1977. In the two intervening years, he was runner-up. For anyone who hasn’t watched a Grand National, the ability to jump a fence well is paramount; Red Rum ran more than 100 races in his career without falling once. Quite remarkable for a horse whose career started as a five-furlong sprinter at the very same course, Aintree. It is fitting that he was buried at the course’s winning post when he died in 1995.

While the pandemic scuppered Tiger Roll’s plans for a hat-trick last year, 2020 was by no means the first time the race didn’t take place. Between 1941-45 it was abandoned, and during the final three years of World War I it moved track. The site of those races is now home to Gatwick Airport. Horses were flying in West Sussex well before airplanes.

As was royalty. While flat racing has had Queen Elizabeth II championing the sport for decades, Aintree does not typically attract such glamour. Yet in 1900 the winning horse was owned by Queen Victoria’s son Edward. It was called Ambush II – only a year later he became King Edward VII.

The magic of the race, however, is in the small stories. Five horses have won at 100/1, including Tipperary Tim and Gregalach back-to-back in 1928 and 1929. The most recent was Mon Mome in 2009, proving that the bookmakers certainly aren’t always right, even now with all the data in the world.

However, the greatest against-all-odds story is that of jockey Bob Champion. Given just months to live after a testicular cancer diagnosis, he recovered to full fitness to ride Aldaniti, recovering from a career-threatening leg injury, to victory on 4 April 1981.

This year, if Tiger Roll isn’t to make history there would be no more popular winner than the horse Richard Johnson is riding. Johnson was runner-up Champion Jockey a record 17 times, 16 times behind AP McCoy and once to Brian Hughes. Although he followed that up with four titles after McCoy’s retirement, he holds another sad record: 21 Grand National rides but no win. Fingers crossed for a fairy tale this year.

By Fitzdares, Racing Bookmaker of the Year (