Fox and Russell join Kelly in magnificent Aintree spotlight
Our Aintree team reflect on the hits and misses at the Grand National meeting
Rarely can a fight for fitness have paid off so spectacularly as Fox produced a perfect come-from-behind ride to land the Grand National at the first attempt on One For Arthur.
Nicola Sturgeon is not the only feistily effective Scottish woman to have those south of the border casting envious glances, and One For Arthur showcased her talents perfectly.
Victory on Tea For Two ensured the meeting received maximum coverage on the opening day and – as usual – she was as accomplished in the glare of the media as she had been in the saddle.
Cheltenham may not quite have gone to plan but his Friday treble and another Grade 1 strike on Saturday were yet more high spots in a memorable season – could he yet overtake Paul Nicholls for second place in the race for the trainers' title?
Labelled by many an incorrigible eccentric after last-fence mistakes at Kempton and Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson's chaser delivered a foot-perfect round of jumping, suggesting a very bright future.
Installed as retained jockey for leading owners Alan and Ann Potts following his Cheltenham Gold Cup heroics on Sizing John, and made a flying start to his new job with a Grade 1 treble on Fox Norton, Pingshou and Finian's Oscar. His four winners meant he finished the meeting as top jockey.
Landed his first winner since losing his claim with an enterprising ride from the front on Fountains Windfall, an effort of which a weighing-room veteran would have been proud.
If ever there was a horse you can rely on to bounce back from disappointment it is Jean Bishop's resilient 11-year-old, who returned from his Cheltenham fall and, in finishing a close-up second, did more than enough to ward off retirement.
Big Fella Thanks
What a horse. At the age of 15, and having already jumped 175 Grand National course fences, the Tom George-trained veteran said goodbye to his favourite course with a marvellous third in the Foxhunters'. Crisp was an Aintree star despite not winning over the famous fences. Big Fella Thanks also failed to score here but is an Aintree star nonetheless.
No closer to that elusive Grand National success but had eight horses finish first or second over the three days and will be mighty hard to overtake in the title race now.
Did his usual trick of restoring northern pride after a Cheltenham blank, winning with Double W's.
Nobody seemed to blame the ground for their defeat. Nobody seemed to have a bad word to say about it. Nobody even seemed to mention it, other than a few quibbles with delays in posting information relating to the GoingStick.
Could do betters
The Willie Mullins/Gordon Elliott trainers' title battle and the proximity of Fairyhouse's Easter meeting meant only two of Ireland's record 19 Cheltenham winners ran at Aintree, and the 11 Grade 1 races attracted just nine Irish runners. None of the 21 races went to an Irish-trained horse.
Elimination process for the bumper
BHA regulations mean the handicapper decides who gets a run in the bumper if it is oversubscribed, yet rating such lightly-raced horses is decidedly tricky and those who missed out with highly promising, unexposed sorts were understandably upset.
Fortune does not seem to smile on the champion trainer here nowadays – he has had just seven winners from 121 runners at the Grand National meeting in the last five seasons.
Recent purchase Vicente unluckily came down at the first fence in the National for Trevor Hemmings, whose 2015 winner would surely have made a bold bid to give the owner a record fourth victory.
Neither the press room nor the winner's enclosure was the same without Tom, who died last year. Armed with pen and pad or Racing UK microphone, he was an ever-present at this meeting.