There are likely to be scenes of wild celebration in the ITV Racing studio at Aintree if Two For Gold can fulfil a lifelong dream for Oli Bell with victory in the Randox Grand National.
The popular presenter will remarkably be having his fourth stab at the world’s most famous steeplechase, with The Rainbow Hunter competing in three successive renewals between 2013 and 2015.
And while the Kim Bailey-trained chaser never managed to complete the course, as a part-owner Bell recalls those big days on Merseyside with great fondness.
He said: “The Rainbow Hunter was the first horse I’ve ever had and growing up the Grand National was the race that got me into racing, I suppose.
“So to have a runner in it, I felt incredibly privileged and it was as good an experience as I thought it would be growing up as a kid.
“The camaraderie between all the owners with a runner in the race is something I really enjoyed. You sort of know who every one of the 40 runners is and you become sort of a team in a way.
“The fact The Rainbow Hunter was able to come back year after year and ended up running in three Grand Nationals, it was just a magical experience.”
Bell and the other members of the May We Never Be Found Out Partnership ended up buying The Rainbow Hunter, who was already an established chaser, after a boozy afternoon at Royal Ascot in 2012.
“I came back from Australia after working out there for a bit and went to see some friends at Royal Ascot – and Kim was in their box,” Bell recalled.
“I think the owners of The Rainbow Hunter were getting a new horse or something and Kim said ‘look, I’ve got a good horse for you if you guys want it’.
“In our drunken haze at Royal Ascot we thought ‘why not, let’s do it’. Then I had to wake up the next day with a headache and a fairly expensive bill, but it was the best experience I’ve ever had, so it was money well spent for sure.”
The Rainbow Hunter unseated Aidan Coleman at the Canal Turn on his first attempt at Grand National glory in 2013, but returned 12 months later with leading claims after winning the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.
However, the National dream was again relatively short lived as he made it only once fence further than the previous year, this time parting company with Coleman at Valentine’s.
Bell said: “I think he was only 25-1 the second year as I told everyone he would win!
“He’d won the Sky Bet Chase, which can be a trial for the Grand National, and I genuinely convinced myself he was going to win it.”
In his bid to make it third time lucky – and give Bailey a second National win after Mr Frisk smashed the track record in 1990 – The Rainbow Hunter ran his best race yet, giving a bold sight from the front for much of the way before coming to grief five fences from home in 2015.
Bell remembers his father and fellow broadcaster Rupert’s talkSPORT commentary vividly.
“I remember the third year, he was actually running a really good race until he came down,” Bell continued.
“He was leading with eight or nine fences to go and my dad’s voice was getting higher and higher as the fences passed. I remember thinking ‘old Rupert Bell is going to go for home a bit too soon here!’. Ultimately he came down and I think dad was just about able to compose himself again.
“I remember looking at Kim during the race and saying to him ‘we’re going to win the Grand National’, and he told me I was an idiot! That experience taught me a lot as I was green and naive, I guess, but it was very special to be part of it.
“Now, once again, I and a host of other people will be dreaming that this year could be their year. That’s what the race does to everyone involved in it.”
In Two For Gold, Bell once again has a realistic National contender on his hands.
So far this season the nine-year-old has won at Doncaster, beaten Dashel Drasher and Bristol De Mai in a thriller at Lingfield and finished second to Fakir D’oudairies when stepped up to Grade One level for the Ascot Chase.
Bell admits his achievements have exceeded his expectations, adding: “When we bought Two For Gold we had the choice of three or four horses and none of us knew that we’d go on the journey we’ve been on.
“You obviously hope and we always knew he was decent, but this year he’s taken his form to another level.
“We’ve seen with his runs at Lingfield and Ascot that he’s a very good horse – you don’t finish second in a Grade One if you’re not.
“I’m very fortunate and thankful to everyone involved that we’re able to plan a trip to Aintree again.”
And so having by his own admission being “naive” in thinking The Rainbow Hunter would strike gold almost a decade ago, what are Bell’s expectations for his latest National hope?
“I’m being far more realistic. With a bit more experience and a few more years under my belt now, I’d just be hopeful that Two For Gold can enjoy the experience and have fun doing it,” he said.
“From a very literal point of view, we know he’s a few pounds ahead of the handicapper – he’s rated 5lb higher now than his mark for the National, so that’s obviously a positive.
“Using my sensible racing head I think he probably needs soft ground to be seen at his very best, but he deserves to be there and hopefully he has a live chance.
“It’s one of the greatest thrills in life to be able to have a runner in the Grand National, so I feel very fortunate to be doing it again.”
While Bell is doing his best to keep his feet on the ground, he has already thought about how he would celebrate should the unthinkable happen.
Any celebration may have to be delayed until after the day job is done, however.
He said: “Because of my role at ITV, every year I do the re-run – the replay of the race. That means being planted in the studio in the middle of the track so we can see the monitors and the different angles and everything like that.
“The re-run is obviously a very important part of the coverage as everyone wants to know where their money has gone and I’ll need to be in the studio from when the race is off until we do the re-run, which might be 15 or 20 minutes after the race has finished.
“What that means is, if Two For Gold were to win the Grand National, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the celebrations because I’d be presenting the replay!
“We’ll have to see what happens, but if he were to win and I’m not able to go into the winner’s enclosure, I’ll be giving it a good kick in Liverpool on the Saturday night to make up for it!”
He added: “I’ve not stop thinking about winning the Grand National for the last nine years, to be honest.
“Whenever I interview people and ask them ‘have you allowed yourself to imagine what it would be like to win the Grand National or win the Derby?’, I’m always surprised when they say they haven’t.
“Maybe as an elite athlete you train your brain to think like that, but ultimately I’m just an idiot owner really, so of course I’ve thought about what it would be like to see your horse coming past the Elbow in front in a Grand National. It would be the greatest thrill the earth would ever give me.
“This is what you’re in it for, isn’t it? This is why people buy these horses – everyone is trying the buy the dream.
“I do it because I love horses, I love racing and love the sport, but this is the iconic race that got me into racing and I imagined riding in as a kid when I was riding my rocking horse.
“I’ve been so fortunate that somehow the two horses I’ve been involved with at Kim’s have or will run in the Grand National, so I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.”
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