2013 Grand National already under criticism for horse safety, but battle between Walsh family could divert attention.
The racing world will hope this Saturday’s Grand National will see all 40 horses come home unscathed in a renewal likely to be a battle between the Walsh family and a strong challenge from Wales.
There is a huge amount riding on this year’s race with the racecourse authorities having implemented several changes after outrage following four horses dying in the last two runnings.
The Walsh’s look well placed to win the first National of what everyone hopes is a new era for the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Father Ted trains two of the favourites in Colbert Station, to be ridden by legendary Northern Irish jockey Tony McCoy, and Seabass, to be ridden like last year, when he finished third, by his daughter Katie.
Ted has already won the National, Papillon in 2000 ridden by son Ruby and when then 16-year-old Katie was the horse’s stablegirl, but Katie stands a terrific chance of becoming the first woman rider to triumph in the race.
Katie, who has established herself as a leading amateur rider, refuses to play on what an achievement it would be for a woman to enter the winner’s circle as a rider – Jenny Pitman and Venetia Williams having done so as trainers.
“It would be fairytale stuff to win and I’d love to be part of it, but you can’t go into the race thinking about winning it,” said the Irishwoman.
“When I think of myself, it’s as a successful amateur and a successful jockey, but not as a successful female, that doesn’t really come into it.
“When I pulled up last year, I never thought, it’s great that I’ve finished third because I’m a girl. It just felt great to be third in the National, there was no female perspective at all.”
Katie may well end up duelling the finish out with Ruby, who is bidding for his third National win on the favourite On My Own.
On My Own – trained by leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins – came to grief at Becher’s Brook second time round last year when going well and gets another chance unlike fellow Becher’s faller According to Pete, who was one of the two fatalities.
However, well-fancied Welsh contender Teaforthree will provide a reminder that it is not just horses who count the cost.
Irish amateur rider JP McNamara, who rode him to victory at the Cheltenham Festival last year, lies paralysed in hospital after a terrible fall at this year’s Festival.
Teaforthree’s highly-regarded trainer Rebecca Curtis says it will be of little solace to 37-year-old McNamara should he win but the Irishman will be prominent in her thoughts.
Curtis, 32, believes Teaforthree has a great chance of becoming the first Welsh-trained winner since Kirkland in 1905.
“Teaforthree’s really fit and well. We couldn’t be happier, but it’s just one of those races where you need to have so much luck in running,” said Curtis.
Aside from Curtis the strong Welsh challenge sees Peter Bowen and Evan Williams saddle live contenders in Always Waining, a two-time winner over the National fences but over a shorter distance, and last year’s fourth Cappa Bleu respectively.
Aside from them 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander tops the weights and is trained by National winning trainer Nigel Twiston Davies, and ridden by his son Sam, and last year’s runner-up Sunnyhill Boy.
The latter’s trainer Jonjo O’Neill experienced a dreadful National last year, Sunnyhill Boy being beaten in the last stride by Neptune Collonges and his other contender Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised had to be put down.
However, the popular Irishman – who never won it as a jockey – stands by the race.
“It’s always been a fantastic race and it still is,” he told the Times.
“People saying the National should be stopped just don’t understand. We are all in racing because we love the horses, but we take things to heart.
“Some of the things said about us are an insult, as if we are animals ourselves.”