In the history of steeplechasing, just two horse have won both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. The legendary Golden Miller did so, in the same season, in 1934, but it is less well remembered that L’Escargot won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, in 1970 and 1971, before winning the Grand National in 1975.

Trained by Dan Moore and ridden, throughout his career, by Tommy Carberry, L’Escargot actuakky ran in the Grand National four times in all. On his first attempt, in 1972, he parted company with Tommy Carberry at the third fence but, in 1973, he completed the course, finishing a creditable, if remote, third behind Red Rum, who was receiving 23lb. In 1974, even a 24lb pull wasn’t enough for him to reverse the form with Red Rum and he finished second, beaten 7 lengths.

In 1975, all eyes were, understandably, on Red Rum, as he attempted an unprecedented hat-trick but, on his favoured soft going, and a further 10lb better off at the weights, L’Escargot proved more than a match for his old rival. Red Rum jumped the third-last fence just in front, but approaching the second-last L’Escargot eased ahead, with Carberry, not for the first time, glancing over his shoulder for non-existent dangers. The pair continued to match strides until the final fence, but on the run-in it was ‘one-way traffic’, with L’Escargot drawing further and further clear to win, comfortably, by 15 lengths.

Immediately afterwards, owner Raymond Guest made a gift of L’Escargot to Joan Moore, wife of his trainer, who said that the 12-year-old would ‘never race again’. However, L’Escargot did run once more, in the Kerry National at Listowel the following September, much to the annoyance of Guest, who took him back and shipped him to the United States, where he died nine years later.

The Sefton Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle race run over 3 miles and 149 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. Open to horses aged four years and upwards, the race was inaugurated, as the White Satin Novices’ Hurdle, in 1988, before being renamed – after the village of Sefton, approximately four miles northwest of Aintree Racecourse – five years later.

The White Satin Novices’ Hurdle was awarded Grade 2 status in 1991 and, under its present title, promoted to Grade 1 status. It is currently scheduled for the second day of the three-day Grand National Festival, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day.

The Sefton Novices’ Hurdle is an obvious target for horses that previously contested the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – a similar Grade 1 race run over the slightly shorter distance of 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 213 yards – at the Cheltenham Festival, although the last horse to win both races was At Fishers Cross. Nicky Henderson, who saddled the inaugural winner of the White Satin Novices’ Hurdle, Rustle, way back in 1988, has since added three more – Beat That (2014), Santini (2018) and Champ (2019) – to his tally and is the leading trainer in the history of the race.

Predicting the result of any race, let alone a novices’ hurdle race, that is many months away is nigh on impossible. However, prospective ante-post punters could so well on some promising youngsters from Seven Barrows, including the unbeaten Firestep, who was prevented from running in 2022 by a series of ‘niggly problems’, but could yet take high order in the novice hurdling division. According to Nicky Henderson, ‘It might be a blessing Firestep didn’t run as he’s a massive, big horse now.’

Down the years, Fred Rimmell, Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain and, more recently, Trevor Hemmings have all been nicknamed ‘Mr. Grand National’. In August, 2020, Hemmings announced his decision to reduce the number of horses he had in training, citing the impact of Covid-19 on his personal and business interests. Nevertheless, Hemmings, 85, has already seen his iconic emerald green and yellow quartered colours carried to victory in the Grand National three times, making him, jointly, the most successful owner in the history of the world famous steeplechase.

So far, the octagenarian owner has won the Grand National with Hedgehunter in 2005, Ballabriggs in 2011 and Many Clouds in 2015. Of course, Ballabriggs was trained by Donald McCain Jnr., son of the erstwhile ‘Mr. Grand National’, whom Hemmings had known for years. Hemmings said of McCain Snr., ‘I got on well with Ginger, but he and I would have clashed because he said things he didn’t really mean and he could be bloody-minded.’

Despite a dispersal sale of 56 horses in September, 2020, Hemmings has, by no means, given up on his ambition of owning a record-breaking fourth Grand National winner. In a rare interview in November, 2020, he said, confidently, ‘I will get a fourth [Grand National]; there is no doubt about that.’ He went on to identify Deise Aba and Cloth Cap, fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, as the two of his horses with the most potential in that respect.