Having already won one Grand National, Jury Duty should be heading to Aintree for the Randox Health-sponsored version as one of the leading fancies.
However, because the Gordon Elliott-trained eight-year-old ‘only’ won the American equivalent at Far Hills, he is coming in somewhat under the radar.
Of course, there are other reasons for that – the main one being stablemate Tiger Roll, who is bidding to become the first back-to-back winner since Red Rum in 1973-74.
Owned by a small syndicate ever since running in two point-to-points, Jury Duty has been – in their words – the “horse of a lifetime”, winning over £350,000.
“We bought him in the summer of 2015 for just £23,000 and he’s been the horse of a lifetime, quite simply,” said Shane Collins of the Sideways Syndicate.
“Obviously we couldn’t have believed what he’s gone on to do, running in Grade Ones, winning an American Grand National and running in the Aintree National.
“Winning an American Grand National and then the English, well it hasn’t been done for a heck of a long time (Battleship in 1938). One is over hurdles and one over the most famous fences in the world and over a mile further.
“It will be a fair achievement, all right. Not too many horses have taken the travelling that well they’ve been able to win, and then he came back in good order, too. He’s got a great temperament.”
He went on: “Gordon gave him a nice break after America and when he ran at Down Royal we weren’t expecting him to win, it was just supposed to be a nice prep run for Aintree because it was over a trip further than he’d won before and soft ground.
“We were delighted he won, he came out of it really well and he was hardly blowing after the race. He seems to have come on again from that race so it’s exciting and giving us a lot to look forward to.”
Jury Duty showed some top-class form as a novice and was sent off favourite for the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but he was beaten when unseating Jamie Codd two out.
“A lot of people will look at the four-miler and say he doesn’t stay, but it was really tacky ground and that’s the worst possible for him. It was the same in the Kerry National. They’ve been the only times he hasn’t been involved in two years,” said Collins.
“I don’t think the distance of the National is an issue. If he can get over the first few fences and get into a rhythm, that’s more important. He’s a serious jumper, never fallen, so it would give us a lot of confidence if he gets over the first few.
“The National is a classy race now, you need a touch of class, even to get in it. We’re happy with a mark of 151, he’s 156 now in Ireland. We think he’s always been underrated. There was a day he beat Shattered Love and Presenting Percy in the Florida Pearl and all the talk was about those two.
“We think he’s got a lot going for him. His weight, he’s in great form going into the race, he’s the right age – you used to want an older horse, but that seems to be changing as it’s a classier race. There’s just one big stumbling block!”
Tiger Roll stands tall over the rest of his field this year, and while he is only diminutive in stature, Collins is fearful.
He said: “Tiger Roll was extremely impressive at Cheltenham and extremely impressive winning a Grade Two hurdle before that. He’s a class animal and seems better than last year. He’s definitely the one to beat.
“Look, there’s 40 runners, anything can happen, but you could be nothing but impressed with him at Cheltenham so we’ll have half an eye on him for sure.”
The Sideways Syndicate was initiated by Collins’ brother, Ciaran, who sadly died not long after Jury Duty won the Florida Pearl Novice Chase, after which jockey and lifelong friend Robbie Power broke down in tears.
“There’s four of us in the syndicate. There used to be five, but my brother, Ciaran, died about a year and a half ago. He set up the syndicate and loved his racing,” said Collins.
“The horse means a lot to us all. Ciaran died just two days after he won the Florida Pearl. I’m sure he’ll be with us, there’ll be a lot of tears if we do manage to win, anyway.”