THE Irish have made a habit of winning the Grand National in recent years. In fact, horses from the Emerald Isle have been successful three times since 1999.
The Irish challenge is strong this year too and among the leading fancies for Aintree tomorrow are the well-weighted Timbera and Hedgehunter.
But what about the prospects from this side of the Irish Sea?
Bear On Board: Since winning at Bangor-on-Dee Races at Christmas, his odds for Liverpool have tumbled. Good jumper - and a horse needs to be at Aintree - and should stay the distance.
Clan Royal: Has won twice over the 'National' fences in the last 12 months and as Ginger McCain has proved with Amberleigh House, form around Aintree is important.
Jurancon II: The horse chosen by champion jockey Tony McCoy who has yet to win the Grand National. Won the English Summer National at Uttoxeter and the Aintree trial at Haydock Park. Likes good ground and seems likely to get it.
Amberleigh House: Who would bet against Cholmondeley trainer Ginger McCain's horse being placed again?
Shardam: Comes from the bang-in-form stable of Nigel Twiston-Davies who trained the 2002 winner Bindaree.
Bindaree: Won the Welsh Grand National at Christmas. Has a liking for softer ground, but his trainer still expects a big performance from what he calls 'the forgotten horse of the race'.
Gunner Welburn: Ran well to be fourth last year. In decent form, but is that as good as it gets for him?
Artic Jack: Trained by Sue and Harvey Smith, this is a seriously good horse with great form this season around Haydock especially. Not kindly treated at the weights and will do well to defy the Handicapper's burden. The last horse to win after being allotted more than 11st was Rhyme 'n' Reason 16 years ago.
My tip is Jurancon II to end Tony McCoy's wait for a Grand National winner. The next fixture at Bangor-on-Dee is on Saturday, April 17. The first race is due off at 2.10pm. A free bus service runs from Wrexham Railway Station at 12.40pm, returning after racing. Admission to the Course En-closure is £6, while the Paddock Enclosure is £13. Accompanied children enter free.
More information on the website www.BangorOnDeeRaces.co.uk or on 01978 780323. The next racing at Chester Races is the May Festival between Wednesday, May 5 and 7. Racecourse ticket prices in 2004 range from £5/6 for the Open Course on all days to £35 for the County Stand concourse and up to £47 for the Long Room during the May Festival.
As well as via the website (www.chester-races.co.uk), badges can be bought on the racecourse's credit card hotline on 01244 304610 which is open between 9am and 4.45pm Mondays to Fridays.
General e-mail inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.