AND we’re off – the tape goes up on three days of racing for the common man as the Grand National meeting starts this afternoon in a little corner of Liverpool that will be at the centre of the sporting universe.

Just three weeks after the Cheltenham Festival, the purists’ four days of National Hunt glamour, all eyes turn to Aintree and quality racing that just about everyone wants to witness.

Those three weeks have given punters time to replenish their wallets and from today until Saturday bookmakers up and down the land will be packed to the rafters with occasional gamblers turning into expert pundits for a festival like no other.

It seems scarcely credible that just 20 years ago the race was under threat as attendances dwindled but now there is no stopping what is arguably the best few days of the year.

Naturally the main focus is on the main event, the four and a quarter mile slog that is the National itself, but today is almost as special as Aintree is packed for Liverpool Day and three Grade 1 contests.

The first of those, The Betfred Bowl, is a belting renewal with six big hitters tackling the Mildmay Course.

It is expected to be a battle between Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti but classy nine-year-old Menorah can defy the odds and give Dickie Johnson a day of glory.

The New One is almost impossible to oppose in the second Group 1, the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle and winning punters should be able to enjoy a pint of the sponsor’s finest brew with their winnings and they can also cash in on Oscar Whisky in the final big event of the day, the Novices’ Chase at 4.50.

There is, of course, a tipple around the National Course for the amateurs in the Fox Hunters Chase and Tartan Snow is well placed to claim a big priced success, while Claret Cloak can improve on his Cheltenham place in the Red Rum Handicap Chase.

There is also interest in this morning’s declarations for the National itself as the field is trimmed to 40 – and if Double Seven stays in, it means the ground suits and it is time to visit the turf accountant.

Never seen in England, Martin Brassil’s charge is the preferred choice on the great AP McCoy – and money has been piled on in Ireland.

The champion jockey rarely makes an unwise selection when it comes to his big race rides – and there is nothing bigger than the National.