And they're off! At 5.15pm BST on Saturday, 40 horses will go to post for the 170th running of the world's most famous steeplechase, the Randox Health Grand National, run over 4m two and a half furlongs at Aintree near Liverpool.
Trying to find the winner- or even a horse to finish in the first five- in such a huge field might appear to be too daunting a task, but in fact the Grand National is less of a lottery than it first appears.
If we bear in mind certain key statistics, we can narrow the field down considerably- and hopefully hone in on the horses who will fight out the finish- and in doing so take a bit of money off the bookies.
It's fairly obvious but you need a horse that is likely to stay the marathon distance. Nine of the last ten winners had won a race over at least 3m- and the only one that hadn't- last year's winner Rule the World, had finished second in an Irish Grand National over 3m5f.
The best form trials for the National are other long-distance Nationals. Pay close attention to horses that had won, or run very well in the Irish, Scottish or Welsh equivalents.
Form in the Becher Chase, run over the National fences over in December- and the Topham, run in April, is also a positive.
2. Age and experience
The last time a seven-year-old won the race was 1940, when the Nazis were invading the Low Countries. Eight-year-olds can win, but usually only once a decade (the last four were 1983, 1992, 2002 and 2014). The optimum ages for a National winner are 9,10,11- these ages have provided 26 of the 32 winners since 1984. There's been three successful 12-year-olds since then, but no 13-year-olds have prevailed since 1923. Last year though the teenager Vics Canvas, who had run well at the course before, and who I recommended as a each-way bet in a radio interview on the morning of the race, came mighty close, finishing third at 100-1.
Experience over fences counts for much in a race as rough as the National. Stats show us that you want a horse that has had at least 10 runs over fences. Avoid novices wearing 'L Plates', whatever their recent form.
3. Weighty issues
Only one horse carrying 11st or more won the race between 1984-2004. Since then though, due largely to the compression of the handicap, we've had six that have achieved the feat. That said, weight is still an important factor as no horse has carried more than 11st9lbs to victory since the legendary Red Rum (a three times winner of the race), back in 1974, while last year eleven of the first twelve carried less than 11st. Interestingly, eleven of the last 17 winners were weighted between 10st 6lbs and 11st, so it makes sense to pay particular attention to horses in this band.
4. Other factors
You might think that for a race as long as the National it doesn't matter too much if a horse gets a bit behind on the first circuit, but this usually goes to a horse that races up with the leaders. You need to find a runner that won't get too detached and can stay in the 'van'. So styles of running are important. Ground considerations too play their part-even with watering, the going is unlikely to be heavy or even 'soft' on Saturday, so mudlarks won't be seen at their best.
ALL THE RUNNERS- IN RACECARD ORDER
**** Likely winner; *** Each-way possibilities; ** Only an outside chance; * No hope
1.THE LAST SAMURI ***
Age 9. Weight: 11st 10lbs. Odds 14-1.
Ran a blinder to finish second in the race last year off a much lower weight and also came third in the Becher over the National fences in December. While his liking for the course is proven and he should go well again, the negative is his big weight this time round.
2. MORE OF THAT***
Age 9. Weight: 11st 6lbs. Odds 12-1.
The former World Hurdle winner was a good sixth in the Gold Cup. He's clearly got the class to win it and can't be discounted, but his weight- and the fact he's only had eight chase starts dampen enthusiasm
3. SHANTOU FLYER*
Age 7. Weight 11st 5lbs. Odds 50-1.
Won at Cheltenham on New Year's Day over 2m5f but his age is the big concern as no seven- year- olds have won this for 77 years.
4. PERFECT CANDIDATE***
Age 10. Weight 11st5lbs. Odds 33-1.
He may not be a 'perfect' candidate but he still has plenty going for him. He's never fallen or unseated and could go well though he does look handicapped up to the hilt.
5. SAPHIR DU RHEU**
Age 8. Weight 11st 5lbs. Odds 20-1.
Has won a Grade 1 race at Aintree (though not over the National fences) and was a good fifth in the Gold Cup. Could stay the trip but his age- and the relatively poor record of his trainer Paul Nicholls in the race dampen enthusiasm.
6. ROI DES FRANCS**
Age 8. Weight 11st 3lbs. Odds 40-1.
Bounced back to form in first-time blinkers last time but most of his wins have come in small fields and may not take to the hurly-burly of the race. He also ran poorly on his two previous visits to Aintree, so the percentage call is to oppose.
7. WOUNDED WARRIOR**
Age 8. Weight 11st 2lbs. Odds 50-1.
Has never raced beyond 3m1f so stamina has to be taken on trust. He had some good novice form two years ago but pulled up on his latest run and others make more appeal.
8. WONDERFUL CHARM**
Age 9. Weight 11st 2lbs. Odds 33-1.
Ridden by Katie Walsh, bidding the become the first successful female jockey in the race. Ran well at the meeting in 2015, but the negative is that the last two occasions he has been tried over marathon trips (including in this race last year), he's pulled-up.
9. TENOR NIVERNAIS**
Age 10. Weight 11st 1lbs. Odds 25-1.
Was really impressive when winning a 3m handicap chase by 30l on soft ground at Ascot in February but this will be a different proposition. He's never raced beyond 3m1f so stamina is an unknown.
Age 8. Weight 11st 1lbs. Odds 14-1.
Although he's not the ideal age, there still lots to like about him as he's a gutsy performer who has run well in some good races and also has a touch of class (he won the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016). Shortlist material.
11. DROP OUT JOE**
Age 9. Weight 11st 1lbs. Odds 66-1.
Not been seen since winning at Uttoxeter back in June- and while he's got a great record fresh, in the last fifty years no horse has won this without appearing in the same calendar year.
12. LE MERCUREY*
Age 7. Weight 11st. Odds 33-1.
Has been in consistent form this term with four places but his best form is in smaller fields and over much shorter trips and he's the wrong age too.
13. THE YOUNG MASTER***
Age 8. Weight 10st 13lbs. Odds 20-1.
Won the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown over 3m5f last spring so stamina shouldn't be an issue but he did fall in the Becher in December. That said his pilot Sam Waley-Cohen has a great record over the National fences and it would be no surprise to see him run well.
14. CAUSE OF CAUSES**
Age 9. Weight 10st 13lbs. Odds 12-1.
Has been well-backed for this on the back of his win in the Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham but his style of running not really suited to this (he got too far behind when eighth in 2015) and it was a similar story when pulled-up in the Scottish National last year.
15. REGAL ENCORE**
Age 9. Weight 10st 13lbs. Best odds 50-1.
In his last ten wins he has failed to complete on seven occasions, but won or come second on the three other occasions. While he could take to this and cause a surprise, there are probably safer outsiders to back.
16. VIEUX LION ROUGE***
Age 8. Weight 10st 12lbs
Has been well-backed for this following his win in the Becher Chase and the Grand National Trial at Haydock - the negatives are that he didn't appear to stay the trip on the two occasion he's been tried in races over 4m+ including when seventh in this last year and he's only had nine chase starts.
17. DEFINITLY RED**
Age 8. Weight 10st 12lbs. Best odds 11-1.
Another well-fancied runner on the back of his wins this year in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby and the Grimthorpe at Doncaster, but although he's 'well-in' at the weights, his stamina is far from guaranteed and he may be under-priced.
18. UCELLO CONTI***
Age 9. Weight 10st 2lbs. Best odds 16-1.
Came sixth last year but would have got closer had he not made a mistake at a crucial stage so has to go on the each-way shortlist because of that effort and his fourth place in the Becher.
19. DOUBLE SHUFFLE*
Age 7. Weight 10st 12lbs. Best odds 40-1.
If this was a 3m chase at Kempton he'd be strongly fancied but it isn't and his stamina is unproven. He's the wrong age too.
20. HOUBLON DES OBEAUX***
Age 10. Weight 10st 12lbs. Best odds 33-1.
A very experienced performer (he's had 31 chase starts) who ticks quite a few of the right boxes, including having run well in the Welsh National and the Hennessy. The ground has gone against him though as he prefers soft or heavy going; that said he could still run a big race.
21. PLEASANT COMPANY**
Age 9. Weight 10st 12lbs. Best odds 16-1.
He's the right age but the trouble with Ruby Walsh's mount is that he's only run six times over fences which isn't ideal for a race like this.
22. ONE FOR ARTHUR***
Age 8. Weight 10st 11lbs. Best odds 14-1.
Bidding to be the first Scottish-trained winner since 1979 and you can't rule him out. He won the Classic Chase at Warwick over 3m5f in January on testing ground- so stamina shouldn't be a problem and he also ran well over the National fences when fifth in the Becher. One for the shortlist.
Age 11. Weight 10st11lbs. Best odds 66-1.
Has yet to win a race over a distance beyond 2m5 and a half furlongs so falls down on that key stat and he's also pulled-up on his last three starts. He wasn't entirely out of it when unseating at the 19th fence last year, so could be given an each-way squeak on that, but others make more appeal.
24. O'FAOLAINS BOY**
Age 10. Weight 10st 11lbs. Best odds 40-1.
Has had a stop-start career since winning the RSA Chase in 2014 and has been well beaten in his last five runs. A wind-op might spark a revival and while he'd be a shock winner he can't be entirely dismissed.
25. HIGHLAND LODGE****
Age 11. Weight 10st 11lbs. Best odds 25-1.
An Aintree specialist who has finished first and a mugged-on-the-line second in the last two runnings of the Becher. He's a front runner who should give supporters a good run for their money; the only negative from a stats point of view is that he hasn't raced in this calendar year.
26. BISHOPS ROAD**
Age 9. Weight 10st 10lbs. Best odds 50-1.
Won the Grand National trial in 2016 but seems to have lost his way since then and it's not a positive that he unseated at the first over these fences in the Topham last year. His best form is on softer ground and he looks an unlikely winner.
27. LORD WINDERMERE ***
Age 11. Weight 10st 10lbs. Best odds 50-1.
His Lordship is something of an enigma- as a previous Gold Cup winner, he can't be discounted, but his come from the back style of running isn't ideally suited to this (he pulled up in 2015). That said he's carrying a lot less weight this time and, has a two-times National winning jockey (Leighton Aspell) on his back and so could fare better.
28. SAINT ARE***
Age 11. Weight 10st 10lbs. Best price 40-1.
Finished a close second behind the late, lamented Many Clouds in 2015, and was well-fancied last year but having taken the lead at the Chair he faded from contention on ground that was too soft. He then disappointingly fell at the first in December's Becher. If he gets past the first few fences he could go well again as he's dropped to a reasonable handicap mark.
Age 8. Weight 10st 10lbs. Best odds 25-1.
There's a touch of the Aurora's Encore about him- with his Scottish National form (he won the race last year) and his preference for good ground. There are concerns over his jumping as he usually hits a few, but granted a clear round, he could run a big race.
30. JUST A PAR**
Age 10. Weight 10st 9lbs. Best odds 33-1.
The trip shouldn't be an issue given the fact that he's come first and second in the last two runnings of the 3m5f bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, but he was disappointing in this last year when finishing 15th and that dampers enthusiasm.
Age 9. Weight 10st 9lbs. Best odds 40-1.
Form figures of FOPO don't inspire too much confidence and although you could give him an each-way squeak on the best of his form - including in the 4-miler at Cheltenham last year, others look more solid.
32. RAZ DE MAREE***
Age 12. Weight 10st 9lbs. Best odds 28-1.
He's interesting on account of his good staying-on second behind subsequent Gold Cup third Native River in the Welsh National in December- an effort even more creditable as he lost a shoe. He was also eighth behind Pineau De Re in the 2014 Grand National so the Aintree fences should hold few terrors.
33. STELLAR NOTION**
Age 9. Weight 10st 9lbs. Best odds 50-1.
He's usually a sound jumper with only one non-completion on his c.v., but the furthest he's won over is 2m5f so there's doubts about his stamina.
34. ROGUE ANGEL ****
Age 9. Weight 10st 8lbs. Best odds 25-1.
He ticks all the right boxes: is an Irish National winner who can race prominently, he's the right age, has a nice weight and his trainer Mouse Morris, won the race last year with a horse that had finished second in an Irish National. Not only that he ran well over the National fences in the Becher in December. Strong contender.
35. COCKTAILS AT DAWN*
Age 8. Weight 10st 8lbs. Best odds 80-1.
He has failed to complete in four of his last six starts and was thrashed out of sight in the races he did finish. Not only that he fell on his only previous run over the National fences in last year's Topham. Hard to understand why connections are running him.
36. THUNDER AND ROSES***
Age 9. Weight 10st 7lbs. Best odds 25-1.
The second Mouse Morris-trained Irish National winner in the field, and this one actually beat last year's Grand National winner Rule the World at Fairyhouse in 2015. That form line is hard to beat, but against that, he didn't jump at all well on his previous run over the Aintree fences in the 2015 Becher.
37. GAS LINE BOY**
Age 11. Weight 10st 7lbs. Best odds 80-1.
Usually races prominently and while its easy to imagine him going well, he does look handicapped up to the hilt and it's a concern that he fell at the first in 2015.
Age 9. Weight 10st 7lbs. Best odds 66-1.
A mudlark who doesn't look like getting his ideal conditions and who judging by his cv, probably won't be good enough.
39. LA VATICANE**
Age 8. Weight 10st 6lbs. Best odds 100-1.
The positives are that she has twice got round these fences, but wasn't close to victory and this race is much tougher.
40. DOCTOR HARPER**
Age 9. Weight 10st 6lbs. Best odds 50-1.
Ran a good race in testing conditions at Cheltenham on New Years Day and has won at this meeting before but is an in-and-out performer and has had only nine chase starts.