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Is The Grand National The Hardest Prize To Have Repeat Success?

The Grand National is on the horizon and trainers will be desperately preparing their horses for the challenge ahead. The prestigious meet is the ultimate test of competitors, which has been reflected in the results of the race. Red Rum was the last horse to secure back-to-back triumphs in the National, which came back in 1974. The record will not be broken this term as the 2017 champion One For Arthur has been ruled out of the race. Injury is just one of the factors that can prevent a horse from repeating, making it arguably the hardest title to repeat across the sporting world.

The Premier League has started to make a claim for the difficulty of sustained success. No team has won the crown in successive seasons since Manchester United in the 2008/09 campaign, and Manchester City are on course to secure the title this season for the first time since 2014. Pep Guardiola’s men have won with such dominance that the battle for second place behind them has become more of a spectacle, with United backed at 11/20 in the Sportsbet odds to finish as runners-up, showing there's no certainty there. Next season, United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham will be the teams vying to knock them off the top spot, highlighting the challenge ahead for Guardiola.

The NFL also provides the same stiff level of competition with the Super Bowl. It has been 13 years since the last side won back-to-back crowns. The New England Patriots were the last team to record two titles on the bounce, winning in the 2003 and 2004 campaign. The Seattle Seahawks and the Patriots have both come the closest — both reaching the title game, only to be defeated late in the fourth quarter. They’re the only teams to have reached the Vince Lombardi trophy game, proving the difficulty of repeating success. We’ll now break down all three sports and see the rigours and difficulty it takes to accomplish back-to-back wins.

Grand National

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Red Rum was arguably the best racing horse of all-time over fences. No competitor has enjoyed greater success at the National than the bay gelding, winning the event three times. Ginger McCain’s charge was the favourite for his first triumph in 1973 and he duly delivered with a narrow victory, finishing ahead of Crisp by three-quarters of a length, powering past him down the stretch. His odds were slightly longer for the 1974 race, but once again the horse rose to the occasion to deliver the win, finishing ahead of L’Escaragot with a surge down the final furlong.

However, the next term L’Escaragot got the better of Red Rum, securing the victory by 15 lengths. McCain’s charge finished second in 1976 behind Rag Trade before returning to prime form in 1977, signing off at the National in style with a brilliant run to defy the critics that suggested he was too old at the age of 12 to triumph. The race has not seen a horse of his quality since, with many competitors failing to make an impression after initially triumphing at Aintree.

Corbiere was one of the few horses to almost pull off the feat. He won the event in 1983 and returned to the track for the meet in the following campaign. Corbiere put forward a fine performance, but was beaten out by the pace of Hallo Dandy, finishing third over the line. West Tip had a decent attempt in 1987, placing fourth after his victory in 1986. Party Politics could not officially win back-to-back races when the 1993 event was voided, although he fell at the 17th fence anyway.

The 2001 race proved to be a shambles, as only four competitors were able to complete the race – one of which was Papillon, who triumphed in 2000. Although, on this occasion he placed fourth. Monty’s Pass made a decent effort in 2004, placing in fourth. However, one of the closest efforts came in 2006 when Hedgehunter was considered the favourite for the meet. Willie Mullins’ charge kept pace down the stretch, only to be beaten by Numbersixvalverde by four lengths. Comply Or Die was undone by one of the biggest shocks as he strived for back-to-back crowns, suffering a defeat to 100/1 outsider Mon Mome in 2009. Don’t Push It had a solid attempt in 2011, only to place third in 2011 behind winner Ballabriggs.

The number of close calls proves how difficult it is to win the National. Comply Or Die is the perfect example of why the race is so hard to win. The bay gelding was the favourite to triumph in 2009 to match Red Rum’s feat, only to lose out to a rank outsider. Few would have predicted that Mon Mome would have pulled off the performance of a lifetime to snatch the crown, having recorded only four wins prior to the event. There are a number of quality horses competing and it takes a flawless performance to secure the win, with no margin for error.

Surprise displays are a factor along with injury as One For Arthur has shown — the reigning champion has been ruled out of this year’s event. Fitness is extremely hard to predict as one race can end a competitor’s career. Care and consideration must be taking throughout the National Hunt season by trainers to ensure that their charges are ready for action- none more so than the Grand National.

The rigours of the race are perhaps the biggest reason why no horse has managed to string together successive wins. The fences and the course are the toughest in the world and can fell even the best of horses and jockeys. It is what makes the race so exciting and unpredictable every year.

Super Bowl

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Even before the era of the salary cap, it was not commonplace for teams to be able to secure back-to-back triumphs. The Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers (twice), Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys all achieved the feat before the implementation of the cap in 1994. In the 24 years since only two sides have won the Vince Lombardi trophy in back-to-back terms. The Denver Broncos and the Patriots.

Before the cap was put into place and free agency existed, clubs were able to keep their rosters together for an extended period of time. As seen in the dynasties of the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys. However, since players were allowed to test free agency, the successful teams have been picked apart by the rest of the league – players have left either for a lucrative deal, a new challenge or simply because their old side could not afford to keep them to comply with the cap.

It has brought balance to the NFL, with almost a new winner or competitor in the Super Bowl every season. The Patriots are the one side that have managed to remain consistent due to the presence of future Hall of Famers – head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The duo have competed in eight Super Bowls together, winning five of the contests. New England’s dynasty has been split into two eras of success – the first when Brady was young player and was aided by a stoic defense. The club won three out of the four Super Bowls from 2001 to 2004, and managed to keep the majority of their team together for one final with an ageing defense. The Patriots went 16-0 in the 2007 campaign and reached Super Bowl XLII in a quest for immortality, only to be beaten by the New York Giants.

It took seven years for them to triumph once again, with Brady at the age of 37. In that time a new potential dynasty emerged in the form of the Seahawks. Their brash arrogance and dominant defense were a breath of fresh air in the NFC Conference. Pete Carroll’s men developed slowly into a Championship-calibre squad before adding the essential parts ready for a deep surge towards the title. In 2013 they advanced to the Super Bowl and destroyed the best offense in NFL history – in the form of the Broncos and Peyton Manning, limiting them to just eight points, putting 43 on the board themselves. With the aid of fortune, the Seahawks were able to return to the Super Bowl, benefitting from a collapse from the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. They and the Patriots went blow-for-blow in Super Bowl XLIX. A circus catch from Jermaine Kearse appeared to be the death knell for New England, only for Malcolm Butler to intercept Russell Wilson on the goalline. Seattle have not reached the Super Bowl since and have been forced to dismantle their legendary defense due to the cap.

The Patriots were dismantled by injuries in 2015, with their hopes ended by the Broncos of a repeat. However, Belichick’s men returned in the 2016 campaign and produced the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to win the crown, stunning the Atlanta Falcons. New England surged towards the title game last season, aiming to emulate their run of three Super Bowls in four years from the earlier era of the dynasty, along with back-to-back crowns. The Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles put on a clinic in a high-scoring contest, while Brandon Graham produced the decisive play to stop a response from Brady. The result proved that even with the best coach and quarterback in the NFL – the parity between teams can favour the side that comes out of nowhere.

Premier League

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England’s top flight is slowly becoming a competitive division at the top. Manchester United were able to dominate the Premier League during the 1990s and 2000s, with brief respite emerging from Arsenal and Chelsea – along with Blackburn’s solitary crown. Since United successfully won three titles on the bounce between 2006 and 2008, no team in the league has managed to string together back-to-back triumphs. The departure of Sir Alex Ferguson has seen the Red Devils removed from the permanent fixture that they were at the top of the table. It has been a round-robin between Chelsea and Manchester City since the Scot retired, with the one surprise of Leicester’s march to the crown in the 2015/16 campaign.

With increased revenue throughout the Premier League due to the lucrative television deals, there has been an arms race to build the best squad to win the crown. The arrival of Guardiola last season was supposed to kick City back into gear after two campaigns of underachievement. However, Chelsea’s lack of European football played into their hands, as Antonio Conte won the Premier League in his first season in England. City responded to Blues’ success with a summer of heavy spending – making significantly greater investment than their rivals. The signings along with Guardiola’s style of play has resulted in an inevitable title win.

However, the challenge will now be for Guardiola to sustain their success. He managed to pull off the achievement in his time with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, although there were fewer teams able to knock them off their perch. Next term, United may have invested once again into their squad, while Liverpool have already made strides to match them by signing Virgil van Dijk and making the future addition of Naby Keita. Tottenham and Chelsea will also be aiming to keep pace, although the latter could have a new manager in place. Arsenal may be on the outside looking in, but a change in the dugout may spark them into life.

The flawless nature of City’s performances this season will be a hard standard to match next term. They’ve not allowed anyone else a sniff at top spot since August. Maintaining that level of form will be a tough prospect after a summer where the majority of their players will have played in the World Cup. Guardiola has the depth necessary and will surely invest himself over the summer. Whether it will be enough is a tough prospect to predict as key components of the current side are beginning to age – none more so than skipper Vincent Kompany and vice-captain David Silva. It will be quite an achievement if City are able to break the 10-year run of a new champion every season.

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