LONDON, (Reuters) – A place in sporting folklore awaits Katie Walsh if, with a slice of luck, a clear round and a willing partner in Seabass, she can become the first female jockey to win the coveted Grand National at Aintree tomorrow.
Since the gruelling steeplechase’s inception in 1839, only two women have trained National winners – Jenny Pitman twice – with Corbiere in 1983 and Royal Athlete in 1995 – and Venetia Williams with Mon Mome in 2009.
It was not until 1977 that women first competed alongside their male counterparts in the National and the best any have done came last year when Walsh and Seabass took third place having been in strong contention until the closing stages. The Irish amateur and daughter of trainer Ted Walsh and sister of two-time winner Ruby Walsh, one of the most successful jockeys in the sport, has a leading chance on Seabass again. Just to keep it in the family, the horse is trained by her father.
“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,” Walsh, at 28, five years younger than brother Ruby, told The Observer.
“I might go down to the first and hit it and fall, and it’s all over. I don’t think I could have finished any closer last year and, being realistic, he’s a year older and he’s got eight or 10 more pounds on his back, so he has more weight to carry.”
The support of public money for Walsh last year saw the heavily gambled-on Seabass start as joint favourite and bookmakers are braced again.
Standing in the pair’s way is brother Ruby who will ride favourite On His Own for leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins.
On His Own fell at the treacherous Becher’s Brook fence last year when going well on the second circuit.
The 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, bidding to give trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies a third National success after Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002), will carry top weight of 11st 10lb in the 40-strong field which includes 2011 winner Ballabriggs and last year’s second Sunnyhillboy.
Imperial Commander missed last month’s Cheltenham Festival due to a lung infection, having only made a comeback in January after a 680-day absence.
The National, with an estimated worldwide television audience of 600 million, will be firmly in the spotlight over equine safety after the deaths of two horses in each of the last two runnings.
A number of fences at the Liverpool course have undergone alteration in a bid to enhance safety for horse and jockey, while other changes this year include starting the race closer to the first fence and away from the noisy and crowded stands.
The race starts at 1515 GMT.
Latest betting for leading runners: 15-2 On His Own, 11-1 Seabass, Colbertt Station, 12-1 Cappa Bleu, 14-1 Chicago Grey, 16-1 Teaforthree, Sunnyhillboy, Balthazar King, Join Together, Imperial Commander