One for Arthur produced a fine performance to etch his place in history by winning the Grand National at Aintree. The bay gelding was not considered one of the favourites for the prestigious meet, but he delivered an outstanding ride to secure the victory by four-and-a-half lengths.
The eight-year-old was only the second Scottish-trained winner of the race, following in the footsteps of Rubstic in 1979. Lucinda Russell was only the fourth female trainer to triumph at the Grand National, with Sue Smith achieving the feat last in 2013 with Auroras Encore.
No horse since Red Rum in 1974 has won back-to-back titles. The 2016 champion Rule The World did not compete at Aintree this year, while Many Clouds finished 16th in his defence last year.
As a result, the challenge for One for Arthur in the bid to retain his crown is a great, although a repeat triumph would put him in elite company in the history of the sport. However, there are several horses in his way, that are either eager for revenge or rising up to challenge his place at the top.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge Blaklion had been considered the favourite heading into the Grand National. However, he underperformed as he finished well off the pace in fourth place.
The bay gelding had placed in the top three in 15 of his 21 races prior to the meet at Aintree, including eight victories. Blaklion had a dominant start to his career, winning his opening four races in the 2014 campaign.
He made an impact in his first major race in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham towards the end of that season. Twiston-Davies’ charge produced a dominant run, winning the meet by 11 lengths ahead of his nearest rival.
However, on his return to the course three months later, he pulled up for the first time in his career. Blaklion did not find his form again until the end of 2015, bouncing back from a rough patch through the season to win the Harrison James And Hardie Novices' Chase.
The bay gelding carried that form into 2016 and he notched an impressive win at the RSA Chase at Cheltenham Festival, just edging out Shaneshill by half a length.
Although he failed to notch another victory over the course of the next year, Blaklion remained in contention for victories, producing a decent outing at the Grand National Trial Handicap where he finished in second behind Native River.
As a result, he was considered the leading contender for the Grand National, but lacked the pace down the stretch to compete with One for Arthur. Twiston-Davies’ charge has the ability to compete again but will need to return to form over the course of the next eight months.
The American horse Cause of Causes was the nearest challenger to One for Arthur at Aintree, finishing in second. The nine-year-old has been a perennial contender at the top and has a particular appetite for the big occasion, especially at Cheltenham.
He had a slow start to his career and was forced to wait until his fifth race, when he won the Kilbeggan Maiden Hurdle by a head in May 2012. The victory kick-started an impressive run of form for Gordon Elliott’s charge, which included a victory at Ascot at the end of the year in Ladbroke.
However, the bay gelding failed to kick on in the 2013 campaign, with underwhelming performances at his first appearance at Cheltenham and the Galway Hurdle Handicap. Towards the end of the year, he hinted at breaking through, narrowly missing out on top spot in the Paddy Power Chase.
The frustration continued the following year, as he could only manage second at Cheltenham in the Challenge Cup Handicap Chase, while he competed only twice in the rest of the term. Cause of Causes sent down a statement at the course in 2015 at Cheltenham Festival, however, by winning the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase and ending his 26-month victory drought.
He could only conjure an eighth-place finish at his first crack at the National, while he failed to click into gear for the rest of the season. On his return to Cheltenham Festival, though, the bay gelding delivered another win in the Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.
In 2017, he made it three years in a row with a triumph at Cheltenham by taking the Glenfarclas Chase crown by nine lengths. However, his form could not see him match One for Arthur at the National on his return to Aintree, with a lot of work needed to bridge the gap by Elliott.
Jonjo O’Neill made the decision to pull his charge Minella Rocco out of National due to his determination to prolong the bay gelding’s future at the top.
Compared to the other horses previously mentioned, Minella Rocco is relatively inexperienced, with only 11 races under his belt. However, he has recorded three victories and has only finished outside of the top three only four times thus far in his career.
Minella Rocco secured back-to-back wins to begin his career with triumphs at Kempton Park and Newbury, highlighting his talent from the off.
His first appearance at Cheltenham did not go to plan at the Harrison James and Hardie Novices' Chase, pulling up at the fourth jump, in a race that was won by Blaklion. O’Neill’s charge returned to the course a month later but struggled once again at the venue.
Minella Rocco got back on track with a solid run in his first outing at Ascot, being just edged out at the Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices' Chase. The Irish horse made the first statement of his career, putting in an outstanding run to win at Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup ahead of Native River.
He failed to build on his momentum, finishing third later in the season at the venue. Minella Rocco then fell for the first time in his career at Aintree, before unseating jockey Aidan Coleman at the Irish Gold Cup.
The seven-year-old found a semblance of his best form at the Gold Cup, although he lacked the pace to beat out Sizing John for the crown, losing out by two-and-a-half lengths. O’Neill’s charge has a lot of talent and the sense of occasion to win the National, but will need a flawless performance to dislodge One for Arthur.
Only six horses have won the Grand National more than once. It has been 43 years since the last competitor to achieve the feat – Red Rum – delivered back-to-back triumphs in the prestigious event, highlighting the challenge ahead of the bay gelding and his team.
One for Arthur had hinted that he was capable of mounting a charge for the crown earlier in the season when he triumphed in the Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick.
Therefore, it’s important the eight-year-old has form on his side ahead of the meet as its rivals will be determined to knock him off his perch. There is ample time for Russell to ensure her charge is at its best, including meets at the racecourse where One for Arthur will defend his crown next April.
Destiny awaits the bay gelding over the next eight months, but all the hard work will be worth it for the horse and his trainers should he join elite company in the winners’ circle.