Top Novices' Hurdle  As the name suggests, the Top Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, run over 2 miles and 103 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. Open to horses aged four years and upwards who, at the start of the current season, have yet to win over hurdles, the race is currently scheduled for the second day of the three-day Grand National Festival.

The Top Novices’ Hurdle was inaugurated in 1976, awarded Grade 2 status following the revision of the National Hunt Pattern in 1989 and further elevated, to Grade 1 status, in 2016. In its history, two winners – Granville Again (1991) and Buveur D’Air (2016) – have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, while the 2012 winner, Darlan, was ante-post favourite for the two-mile hurdling championship when suffering a fatal fall at Doncaster a month before the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

The position of the Top Novices’ Hurdle in the National Hunt calendar makes it an obvious late-season target for horses that previously contested the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the 2022 winner, Jonbon, for example, finished second at Cheltenham. However, the last horse to win both races was the ill-fated Browne’s Gazette, trained by Michael Dickinson, way back in 1984.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Darlan and Buveur D’Air, also saddled General Miller (2010), My Tent Or Yours (2013), Josses Hill (2014) and Jonbon (2022) to victory for a total of six wins and is the most successul handler in the history of the Top Novices’ Hurdle. Granted his previous record, punters might do well to keep an eye on the Master of Seven Barrows, who appears to have a strong team of novice hurdlers for the 2022/23 season.

The War National  The War National, or ‘War National Steeplechase’ to give the race its full title, was the name given to two of the three renewals of a substitute ‘Grand National’ run at Gatwick Racecourse during World War I. Built as a replacement for Croydon Racecourse, on land beside the London to Brighton railway line – nowadays occupied by Gatwick Airport – Gatwick Racecourse opened in 1891. In 1916, with Aintree requisitioned by the War Office, the first substitute ‘National’, known as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ was run on a specially constructed, albeit right-handed, course at Gatwick over the Grand National Distance.

The following year, the fences were stiffened somewhat and the inaugural War National Steeplechase, run on heavy going, was won by Ballymacad, ridden by Edmund ‘Ernie’ Driscoll. The second, and final, renewal of the War National Steeplechase was staged at Gatwick in 1918 and was won by Poethlyn, ridden by Ernest ‘Ernie’ Piggott, grandfather of Lester. Poethlyn went on to jusify 11/4 favouritism in the 1919 renewal of the Grand National, back at Aintree, thereby becoming the shortest-priced winner in the history of the race.

Gatwick Racecourse is, of course, long gone, having staged its final fixture on the day after German forces entered Paris during World War II. However, in 2017, Gatwick Airport marked the centenary of the inaugural War National by installing authentic jockey scales, on which passengers could weigh their luggage, in the South Terminal.

Well, I mean it actually is 2021, but in comparison to the 2020 Grand National which was a ‘virtual’ affair it’s certainly time to party this time around. Granted this year’s Grand National won’t have roaring Aintree on-course crowds, but it is at least taking place, and indeed shaping up to be something special. With expected TV audiences worldwide into the hundreds of millions, racing fans are primed to see if one of (if not ‘the’, by time of the race) the shortest priced Grand National horses ever can claim the win. Cloth Cap, set to be ridden by Tom Scudamore, is just 7/2 with several bookmakers. Confidence from punters comes from an impressive season which includes winning the Ladbrokes Trophy, and with a low weight he’s an obvious choice.

In our embedded Betway video, Katie Walsh (a high achiever in the event in her own right), discusses the challenges that women jockeys faced (and still face!) to gain recognition in the Grand National. With plenty of obstacles in their path (even Ginger McCain said of Carrie Ford, that the race was ‘no place for a woman’ – she finished an impressive 5th) it ‘s been a tough road, but Walsh herself placed 3rd in 2012, drowning out the noise and naysayers. This year at least three women look set to take the reigns in the race. I’ve got my eye on the Paul Nicholl’s trained and Bryony Frost ridden Yala Enki at 40-1. It’s worth a punt for the outsider fans amongst us! Whatever you’re on, enjoy the race!