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All grand at the National

Alastair McIntyre | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 2 April 2008

At 4.15pm on Saturday, the tapes will go up on the 161st Grand National at Aintree.

About nine and a half minutes later, the winner - if the going isn’t like mud - will have crossed the line and, for jockey, trainer, owner and even punter, the experience could be well be a life-changing one.

Who that winner will be is another guess. But 40 horses with all their connections will be hoping it's them.

Finding a winner in racing is difficult - finding a winner in the National is even harder. You couldn’t make it up but the first winner, in 1839, was Lottery. It has been one ever since.

The National is a race that stirs the senses, gets the heart pumping. You are on edge, you feel for horse and jockey and those you have money on, you run every yard, you jump every fence, you are transfixed that little bit more.

And the best place to be to see all the drama unfold? Well it's on your sofa in front of the television…

You may think I'd obviously say that but it’s true. Those lucky enough to be at Aintree will have a great day, enjoying a great atmosphere - but National day on BBC One is a national institution as you don’t miss a thing.

And here's why. The coverage - which will be produced by Sunset+Vine for the BBC - will get you closer to the action than ever before. There will be 52 cameras which include three super-slo-mo ones, two in-fence cameras, two in cars, one in a helicopter and 14 radio cams - and they are fantastic for getting you up close and personal to all the action.

But the cherry on the cake is a first for BBC Sport as we will be using the new Vortex camera. This allows a camera to be hoisted to a height of 30 metres in just 15 seconds - so watch out for that… it should be something special.

Statue of Red Rum at Aintree

Fronting the coverage is Clare Balding, in this, her 10th Grand National for BBC Television. Clare will be in her element over the three day meeting and she will be leading the talented team in front of and behind the cameras with typical enthusiasm and energy. She will be joined by fellow presenter Rishi Persad and "guesting" with the team will be one of Aintree's famous sons, Richard Dunwoody.

Richard won the National twice - on West Tip in 1986 and Miinnehoma in 1994. He will provide expert opinion throughout the three days, along with fellow former jockeys Norman Williamson and Richard Pitman. Calling the races will be lead commentator Jim McGrath, along with Darren Owen, Tony O'Heir and Ian Bartlett, who will also be analysing the big races over the daunting Aintree fences.

And boy do they need jumping… Becher's Brook, Canal Turn, The Chair, the open ditches. It’s all about which horse will adapt to the conditions the best and get into that rhythm the jockeys desperately aim for. But who will be the horse to do that? Which one at this stage fits the famous National profile?

Well, Irish-trained horses have won six out of the last nine Nationals and, with that statistic in mind, Slim Pickings seems to have a great chance for trainer Tom Taaffe. Snowy Morning for Willie Mullins looks to have excellent credentials too.

But the National wouldn't be the National without a McCain-trained horse. Donald, son of legendary four-time winning trainer Ginger, saddles Cloudy Lane. And that could go off a short-priced favourite. It has a relatively light weight of 10st 11lb to carry and has been in excellent form this season. Ginger famously won the National with Red Rum three times in the 1970's and Amberleigh House in 2004 - could there be another McCain victory? It would be an amazing story if it did happen - but that's one thing the National always seems to provide - a good story.

Let's hope there's more of the same in 2008 and good luck to everyone involved in it and to you with your selections.

For the record my choice is Butler's Cabin. And why? It has won an Irish National, is relatively young at eight-years-old and has a decent weight with 11st 3lb. But the main reason I choose Butler's Cabin is because I would love the 12-time champion jockey AP McCoy to win the race. He is desperate to do so and victory would complete his collection of having won everything there is to win in National Hunt racing.

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