It is nine years since Ryan Mania won the Grand National, a time span he can’t believe and makes him feel old after landing the greatest steeplechase at the tender age of just 23.
This year he will ride Dingo Dollar, who has followed a very similar path to the 2013 hero Auroras Encore, in the 174th renewal of the race. More on him shortly and his other pair of Saturday rides.
First of all, though, I was lucky enough to walk the famous National course with him on Thursday as he took me down to the first line of famous fences.
Walking from the start, we chatted about the modifications as I joked that now the National was like a handicap hurdle compared to ‘the good old days’ although I’ll be happily watching on screen rather than on horseback.
“Wait until we get to that first fence, and especially the first ditch” was his response.
I took everything back. Hurtling at these spruce obstacles at 35mph on an unpredictable half ton beast…he had a point.
Over the road crossing Ryan was delighted with how the ground felt. “Dingo will love this, not soft at all”. Plenty more rain fell throughout Thursday but with a strong wind, the National looks set to be on good to soft ground at worst.
He trod the same line that he took nine years and one day earlier on the 66/1 shot that propelled him to the national front pages. Just to the left of centre, a plan he intends to repeat this Saturday.
“It’s a cavalry charge and we all have to spread out, but this is the line I wanted and where I aim to be. If you watch the win back, I kept to plan A the whole way, which is unheard of, especially in a National”.
Fence 3 and the first big jumping test approaches, the first open ditch.
“You were saying something about Hurdles, Matt….?”
Not anymore. This was a big expanse of spruce with a giant orange take off board preceding it, just to amplify the size.
“This is fence 3 and 19, plus there is one on the other straight we jump twice plus the Chair as fence 15. There have been modifications aplenty for safety, but they have come on the big names, Bechers, the Chair etc. The others less so and are still to be jumped, but they are presented beautifully and a lot more appetising for horse and jockey than before."
We made our way back to the Chair, one of the most famous obstacles in the world. It has undergone plenty of work over the years, filling in the ditch and reducing the span, but I tell you, pop down and have a look, it is still a beast. It is the tallest fence on the course, standing at 5 foot 2 inches with a five-foot ditch on take-off. Those big orange boards are in play again.
Ryan once again takes a position and approaches The Chair. He is still about five horse widths off the inside rail, but much closer to it than in the early stages, but the course narrows here past the stands and onto the second circuit.
“The field has strung out by now so there is less jostling for position, and this is where I want to be. To be honest, I will be happy to still be going right now as it is exactly halfway round.”
So, what of Dingo Dollar and the chances of a second Grand National victory?
“It’s a Grand National and there is so much luck required in running needed before you even consider whether the horse is good enough. Dingo Dollar deserves to take his chance. He was second in a Scottish National and had his prep at Kelso five weeks ago, just like Auroras Encore. We have taken the same path and I am delighted with the ground out here. He will love this, he jumps well, he stays and has a nice weight, so ticks plenty of boxes.
“I can’t be confident, it is a bit of a lottery out here and if we finish in the first five or six, I will be delighted. I will say the same as I said in 2013, we are literally here to have a day out and see what happens.
“My wife rides him out everyday and will lead him up here on Saturday, so it will be a real family affair and If I was lucky enough to win it again, I would certainly appreciate it and take the time for it to sink in with all my family around to celebrate with.”
Ryan also has another pair of rises on Saturday, with the National sandwiched in between.
Empire Steel runs in the 4.15.
“This is the race I have wanted him to run in all season. These big staying handicaps are made for him, and I honestly think he could be graded class next season. We have seen how good he can be at Kelso with two impressive wins and the mistake at the last a fortnight ago I think was the difference.
“He was beaten by a very good staying handicapper though and deserves his chance here. It's obviously a wide-open race and all bar two have less weight than him, but I’m sure he will give a good account and is more streetwise than his run in Grade 1 company here last year.
Prairie Wolf goes in the bumper at 6.20.
“This is a horse that I really like. He was an easy winner on debut and travelled well under a penalty at Carlisle, but just didn’t pick up in the soft ground. He was really gutsy at Doncaster when winning in January with the runner-up having the benefit of the rail, but he wouldn’t give up and it meant quite a bit to me having lost the lovely Midnight Shadow half an hour earlier.
“I am hopeful he is a horse we will be hearing quite a bit about. It is always hard to win a bumper under a penalty and the Nicky Henderson horse he beat (Bold Reaction) won well at Kelso recently, so his form looks decent. Of course, it’ll be difficult with Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls, Alan King et all represented, but he has a great attitude and deserves to be in the line-up.
*18+ | BeGambleAware