Ulster's Red so hot for shot at Grand National success
This province has a long, successful link to winning the Aintree Grand National and local connections could conceivably register a 1-2 this weekend.
Anglo in 1966, and his half-brother Red Alligator in 1968, were bred in County Down by Billy Kennedy; Rhyme 'n' Reason (1988) was bred by Judy Maxwell at Ballynahinch; Little Polveir in 1989 by Saintfield's Sam Harris; while 2002 victor Bindaree was bred by Noel King of Castlewellan.
Besides triple National winner Red Rum, the prefix Red has also been carried by several other winners including Red Marauder and the local Red Alligator.
And for some time, Definitly Red has been my major fancy for Saturday's Aintree Grand National, sponsored by Crumlin-based Randox Heath. The horse, now trained by Brian Ellison in Yorkshire, started his career under the care of Downpatrick trainer Brian Hamilton, a former Northern Region champion rider who spotted and bought the youngster at the Goffs Bloodstock Sales in Kildare.
Owned by a locally based group, headed by Ballygowan-based Peter Magill, the Checkmate Syndicate saw their horse win a point to point at Templepatrick in October 2013 but only after a hiccup first time at the venue earlier in the year when the rider mistook the winning post with the race won.
Coincidentally, Definitly Red finished runner-up on his debut to Wounded Warrior who he is due to meet again on Saturday.
The horse proved a shrewd purchase and ran well in an above average renewal of the Cheltenham Festival bumper with the great AP McCoy aboard the following year for his new connections.
Definitly Red won his latest start at Doncaster last month and was immediately promoted to one of the Grand National favourites and his price slashed.
Another strong fancy, Blaklion, is a product of the Ulster point to point circuit and finished third to Definitly Red at Wetherby in December but reversed placings when winning at the same course with the locally-bred Native River filling third prior to also finishing third in last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Trained by Colin McKeever for leading owner Wilson Dennison, who enjoyed another successful Cheltenham Festival with his graduates last month, Blaklion won his point in January 2014 with top Banbridge amateur Steven Clements in the saddle.
Blaklion's major success to date came at last year's Cheltenham Festival when winning the Grade 1 RSA, beating his former Ulster stablemate Shaneshill and asserting himself as a very high class horse.
Vieux Lion Rouge is the Grand National favourite based on having beaten Blaklion into second at Haydock in February.
The defection of JP McManus-owned Carlingford Lough on Monday left The Last Samuri to carry top weight.
Samuri travelled over last November to contest the feature chase at the Down Royal Festival but was no match for winner Valseur Lido and is held on form by Definitly Red who beat him into second at Doncaster last month.
The Last Samuri's place in the betting is largely due to having finished runner-up in last year's renewal of the Aintree spectacular to Rule The World.
Form over the Aintree fences is a big advantage and was endorsed with the horse just denied in the Beecher Chase at the Liverpool course in December.
Amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen has the best record over the Aintree fences and will partner The Young Master for former Crumlin jockey turned trainer Niall Mulholland.
Finally, advice to once a year punters - back your selections before Saturday ensuring it's 'non runner, no bet' as the prices on Saturday of all runners will be reduced drastically.
Grand National Forecast
1st DEFINITLY RED
3rd THE LAST SAMURI