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Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 19:39 UK

Aintree, 4 April, 2009

JOHN SMITH'S GRAND NATIONAL, Aintree: Saturday 4 April, 1615 BST
Coverage: Full TV coverage from Aintree on Thursday and Friday on BBC2 and online from 1345, and on Saturday from 1300. Saturday - radio coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on BBC Sport website & mobiles

Clare Balding
By Clare Balding
BBC racing presenter

The Grand National has been an obsession for me since I was little and it is so exciting to be right in the middle of it on what is my favourite day of the year.

My uncle Toby has trained the winner twice while my dad and my brother Andrew have both trained runners in it which made it really exciting.

Andrew and I used to watch it as children and sit on the arm of the sofa and 'ride' the horse we had picked and fall off when our horse fell and then get on another one which is a luxury that jockeys don't have!

Horses jump one of the Aintree fences
The Aintree fences are a massive test for the Grand National field

I think nowadays the Grand National is one of the few events of the year where families and friends get together and pick their horses in a group and then watch the race together.

Many workers get involved by taking part in office sweepstakes while families sit over the breakfast table on the morning of the race and read the papers to try to decide on a winner.

It doesn't matter whether you are a six-year-old child experiencing the race for the first time or an 86-year-old grandmother, you can still pick the winner of the Grand National. I think that is what gives the race its the special appeal.

Compared to the Cheltenham Festival, which took place a couple of weeks ago, the Aintree meeting is very different.

Cheltenham is a beautiful racecourse in a wonderful setting and where Aintree might not be beautiful, it has an amazing intensity because there are so many people there and it is Liverpool's big day out.

Even the build-up days like the Thursday and Ladies Day on the Friday, where you see all sorts of sights, are really well attended.

It has a very different atmosphere to Cheltenham - more metropolitan and it attracts a younger crowd and you won't see any tweed!

Timmy Murphy on Comply or Die
Timmy Murphy and Comply or Die are aiming for back-to-back wins

Although Cheltenham has got one good race after another with a championship race each day and Aintree has got better with its support races, its meeting is all about one race - the Grand National.

With every jockey, even those who have won high-profile races, people still want to know what they will be riding in the Grand National and what sort of chance the horse has of winning.

As a reporter covering the Aintree meeting, you are gearing up to that big race and making sure that you know plenty about it because there is a lot of information to take in and millions of people across the country are tuning in to watch.

For the jockeys, it is a high-profile race and a very intense time. They have got to be as fit and as strong as they are for any race and they are also the focus of a lot more media attention.

During the race with 40 runners they have to watch what everyone else is doing as well as concentrating on what they are doing themselves. You've got someone like James Reveley who has only just turned 20 and rides Rambling Minster in his first Grand National - it is going to be such a monumental experience for him and I think he will go well.


Tony McCoy, who has yet to win the Grand National in his 13 attempts, would dearly love to triumph, but he can't control that and make it happen but I think it will happen for him someday.

Overall, I think the race rewards those who have the most patience but this year's field is very high quality.

You have last year's winner Comply or Die, Snowy Morning who was placed last year, Butler's Cabin and Hear the Echo who have won Irish Nationals as well as State of Play who has won a Hennessy Gold Cup

I like Southern Vic, trained by Ted Walsh, although his son Ruby Walsh isn't going to be riding him but Niall 'Slippers' Madden, who takes the ride, won the race on Numbersixvalverde in 2006 and is a talented replacement.

Of the other contenders, Rambling Minster has got to be in with a shout while I don't think State of Play and Black Apalachi will be too far away either.

Clare Balding was speaking to BBC Sport's Oliver Brett

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see also
Walsh rides National hope My Will
30 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
My Will heads betting for Aintree
20 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Character Building out of Aintree
27 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing

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