Aspell eyes National history on Many Clouds

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Liverpool (AFP)

Leighton Aspell will write his name in Grand National folklore should he win Saturday's Aintree showpiece again on Many Clouds.

Victory on last year's winner would make the jockey the first to win the celebrated steeplechase in three successive years -- he also took the 2014 edition on Pineau De Re.

Quite an achievement for a rider who announced his retirement in 2007, only to have second thoughts.

Aspell's Many Clouds, trained by Kim Bailey, is 8-1 favourite -- he was sent off a 25-1 chance last year -- to follow up his 2015 heroics after tuning up for the world's most celebrated steeplechase with a win in his prep at Kelso last month.

And his 39-year-old rider reflected last week on his decision to almost walk away from the sport prematurely nine years ago.

"I am so glad that I did change my mind," he told British media.

"When I did return it gave me a massive appreciation of it and I was going to cherish it and take it with both hands.

"I was working for John Dunlop in that time. It started out as a riding out job to fill a gap, then there was an opportunity as pupil assistant.

"He was a great bloke to work for and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but there was a niggling doubt in the back of my mind that I should still be riding.

"There was no one moment, it was just in the back of my mind. It was a question of just having the courage to go and make that decision.

"I put some feelers out with owners, trainers and my family and everyone was very positive about it.

"It was probably something I should have done earlier, but that's history now. It was 18 or 19 months before I got my career back on track, but I am very glad it happened."

History is stacked up against a repeat for Many Clouds.

The last horse to win back-to-back Nationals was the mighty Red Rum, who won the first and second legs of his hat-trick in 1973/74.

More often than not their winning exertions appear to take a toll, but Many Clouds on the surface seems to be in as good if not better form than he was this time last season.

"Last year he had a very tough season. Some horses would have an equally tough season and would not be the same, but he actually seems to have improved for it," said Aspell.

"He is really battle-hardened now. It was really good to see the enthusiasm and energy at Kelso last time. It has been under the surface all year, but hopefully it is all coming together at the right time."

Aspell says he is unfazed by the possibility of making history.

"I'm just feeding off the confidence in Many Clouds. He ticks all the right boxes -- ability and stamina-wise.

"We've just got to keep him in the best possible shape and I am sure he will give it his best shot.

"I am very happy riding what I am riding."

One of Aspell's greatest fears amongst Many Clouds' rivals was Gold Cup fourth Carlingford Lough but the Irish raider is set to miss next weekend's showpiece and be aimed instead at the Punchestown festival.