Read an excerpt of Dan Barber’s Timeform report on the Randox Grand National and Rachael Blackmore’s historic win on Minella Times.
The unsatisfactory - even unnecessary - absence of dual winner Tiger Roll had seemingly robbed this year's Grand National of its biggest story, his absence one indicator of a possible dip in quality this year as well.
But, in a season in which their success had already rewritten the record books at the other major spring Festival in Britain, Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore delivered yet again, this time on the sport's biggest stage, providing the former with a first National to go alongside his unprecedented big-race treble at Cheltenham and the latter with the rightly-lauded achievement of becoming the first female rider to land the prize.
Minella Times - one of an octet of eight-year-olds in the line-up - led home a one-two for the trainer in a scene that mirrored the Gold Cup the previous month, the Irish domination of the major British jumps scene somehow tightening its stranglehold yet further as only three home-trained runners even managed to complete and, of those, only former National favourite Blaklion worked his way into the top 11.
As has become the norm, even under spring-like conditions and with Jett ensuring a strong pace, the fences didn't get in the way half as much as used to be the case, with only eight either falling or unseating, the sole loss of life - as in the most recent edition in 2019 - occurring after a fence rather than in the jumping of it. The disadvantage of a wide route under these sort of conditions is the other tactical angle worth recording.
Minella Times put the icing on the cake of an unparalleled season of big-race success for his trainer/jockey, adding a Grand National to their Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double at Cheltenham the previous month, bang there in a couple of the major staying handicaps on the overtly-stronger Irish scene during the winter since his winning return and making light of a BHA mark of 146 on his first appearance in Britain, making it seem all very routine under another faultless Blackmore ride.
Crucially settled towards the inner in touch, he took extremely well to the fences, travelled fluently and only briefly looked in much danger on getting to the front two out, seeing things out well on his first crack at a marathon distance.
He offered further proof that, these days, prior course experience is bordering on a red herring as a key to solving the race, those making their first start over these fences a successful one far outweighing those winners who were returning for another crack in recent times.
Balko des Flos hadn't coped in the unorthodox environment of the Cross Country but looked a natural faced with this unconventional test for the first time, picking his way through from rear under a well-judged ride, getting closer by the second Canal Turn and giving chase to the winner from two out, shaking off Any Second Now from the elbow but unable to close down his two-year younger stablemate ahead. He's been a lost soul since his Ryanair success in 2018 but would be worth returning here for the Becher in the autumn as he seeks to end his losing sequence.
Any Second Now mirrored the same stable's Seabass nine years earlier by finishing third in the Grand National on the back of a warm-up success over as short as two miles, yet he might well have turned that minor placing into a win had things gone better for him on the way around, not far off Clan Royal or Beau territory in terms of luckless National runs this century, no sooner recovering from his sole blunder at the tenth than nearly brought to a standstill by the fallen Double Shuffle at the twelfth. He made up significant ground to get into things between three out (only ninth there, 16 lengths behind leader and eight lengths behind eventual winner) and two out, sustaining his effort well enough to dispute second at the elbow before he finally cracked. He'll surely be high on the shortlist again in 12 months’ time.
Burrows Saint couldn't emulate Bobbyjo by adding a Grand National to his Irish version but threatened to do so for a long way, the extra distance proving too much for such an exuberant type by staying standards. He jumped and travelled as well as any but, having loomed up entering the straight, could do no more when asked from two out, hanging right as he faltered markedly on the run-in.
Farclas had got closest to The Shunter (Grade 1 runner-up earlier in week) in the Plate and is well worth another chance in a premier handicap chase or two, whether kept going this season or returning next. He held his own in this one until his stamina ran dry, Kennedy having held him together for as long as possible, ultimately to no avail as his effort flattened out before the last.
Blaklion has missed the Grand National boat but gave further evidence he's still a useful chaser, hollow though the tag of 'best of the British' might seem in the circumstances. He crept into things from a long way back under an exaggerated waiting ride (already in last when hampered first), and was in contention entering the straight but was held from two out, for all he passed a tired Discorama on the run-in.