When the Point-to-Point season concludes this season, I normally weep a tear or two, knowing I'll have to wait a whole summer until the game begins again. One of the good things to come from the misery of the Covid lockdowns has been an earlier start to the season, now destined to start in late October, making that wait a little shorter.
Meantime, there's nothing to beat a look back at this year's Grand National fixture to see the very best of Jump racing, extending from the big race itself to the Foxhunter: the amateurs' chance to experience the unique nature of Aintree's big fences.
You’re missing out on a lot if you haven’t seen the highlights from a 2021 meeting that thrilled without a full crowd. This article will share some of the memorable incidents to occur over the three days. You can also check the Grand National festival results in detail to find surprising results.
After the announcement of the Prime Minister about the return of spectators to racing in March 2021, the Grand National fixture took place with owners only attending to enjoy their horses. Day one saw two winners for Paul Nicholls, including Clan des Obeaux in the Betway Bowl, but the Foxhunter went to French-bred Cousin Pascal for John O'Shea, 2 1/2l ahead of Latenightpass for Warwickshire's Tom Ellis.
Day 2 saw a terrific performance from former pointer Pink Eyed Pedro for Pyle-based David Brace, a 4 1/2l runner up to Livelovelaugh in the Randox Foxhunter, promising more to come in the Grand National of 2022 for the likeable Welshman.
It was a case of seconditis for two other trainers from Warwickshire and Herefordshire too - a case of near misses in the Betway Top Novices Hurdle for Michael Scudamore's Do Your Job, 1 1/4l second to Belfast Banter, and Dan Skelton's Shan Blue, a distant second to Chantry House in the Mildmay Novices Chase.
For all the quality of the races on Grand National Saturday, it's all about one race. Many racing fans believe that the winner of the Grand National always hides a story . They can't be proved wrong this year because the story of 2021’s winner is the breaking of racing's greatest glass ceiling, when Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National.
In 2012, Katie Walsh finished third in the Grand National, becoming the first lady to unsaddle in the winner's enclosure. But nine years on from that milestone, Blackmore went two better. There's been an inevitability to this even before Blackmore became top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival. 2021 was a breakthrough season for Blackmore, not among her peers and fellow professionals, but among a wider public able to appreciate her consummate horsemanship.
Let’s talk about the remarkable Minella Times, Blackmore’s ride at Aintree. At odds of 11/1, Minella Times beat the bookmakers’ favourite, Cloth Cap, winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in December. A fourth 8-year-old horse to win the Grand National, he ran for JP McManus, one of the most popular owners, offering his owner the second National win of his career after Don'T Push It in 2012.
Minella Times made for a memorable one-two in the National for trainer, Henry De Bromhead; Balko Des Flos, trained by De Bromhead, also took second. It concluded a remarkable racing month for the De Bromhead stable after a blistering Cheltenham and a first National scalp to his name.
You don't have to be a punter to enjoy watching the thrill of Aintree. Any of the 21 races amply illustrate why horseracing attracts such a significant following, from the 400,000 that attend Point-to-Point fixtures, to the 270,000 that attend a normal Festival.
It's truly a sport for all.