Tom George described finishing second as “a lonely place” after Saint Are went into the runner-up spot 12 months ago, but his isolation can turn to elation following the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree today.
While all eyes were on the deserved winner Many Clouds, Saint Are ran his heart out and, if anything, was gaining on him in the last 100 yards.
The handicapper has been extremely fair on Saint Are, giving him a 2lb pull for that length-and-three-quarters defeat.
That adds up to Saint Are carrying a featherweight of 10st 5lb, with Many Clouds burdened with 11st 10lb.
A fearsome rival he may be, but having to give weight all round may just find him out on the final punishing run from the last fence.
The National apart, Saint Are has a tremendous record at the course.
He won the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle in 2011 and struck in the John Smith’s Handicap Chase a year later.
He got round in ninth place in Auroras Encore’s National in 2013 and then had only his real blip on Merseyside when falling a year later in the handicap chase he had won in 2012.
George has only had the ten-year-old for a couple of seasons and accepts it took him a while to really get to know how he ticks.
This season everything has gone like clockwork. Following a spin over the cross-country course at Cheltenham in November, Saint Are completed the course in the Becher Chase when seventh to Highland Lodge.
December is not his time of year, but it was more like Saint Are at Doncaster in February when he made his last public appearance before Aintree.
In the late winter sunshine he signed off with a victory that augured well for his National assignment.
Holywell is an enigma but if he takes to the fences he is capable of running a big race. He can take second spot for Jonjo O’Neill. O’Faolains Boy showed he was coming back to form when seventh in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and can run into third, while Many Clouds can be a gallant fourth.
Earlier in the day, Thistlecrack can whet the appetite for the big one by completing what hopefully will be a lap of honour in the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle.
Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old has dominated the division this season and his triumph in the Ryanair World Hurdle at Cheltenham was sensational.
If he is in the same form, nothing will live with him.
Douvan was also extremely impressive in the Arkle Trophy and looks unbeatable in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase for the formidable Willie Mullins team.
Mullins can also strike with Yorkhill in the EZ Trader Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
He floored the highly-regarded Yanworth in the Neptune at Cheltenham and can stretch his 100 per cent record over jumps to four.