Grand National-winning racehorse trainer Denys Smith has tipped a North-East jockey for success at today's meeting at Aintree.

Smith trained more than 1,700 winners over almost half a century, most famously Red Alligator, who won the world's greatest steeplechase in 1968.

More than 2,000 well-wishers lined the streets of Bishop Auckland as Smith returned to his stables with the victorious horse, owner Jack Manners and jockey Brian Fletcher.

The stables were demolished last year, but Smith, now 82, and his wife, Jean Mary, still live on the adjacent Holdforth Farm, their house decorated with racing memorabilia and photographs.

He retired five years ago but maintains a keen interest in the sport of kings and is tipping 16-1 shot Simon to win.

Jockey Andrew Thornton was born in Bishopton, near Darlington, and honed his interest in racing by working at Arthur Stephenson's stable at Leasingthorne, near Bishop Auckland, as a youngster.

The eight-year-old horse, trained by John Spearing, recently won the Racing Post Gold Chase and is owned by Mercy Rimell, widow of four-time Grand National-winning trainer Fred.

"Andrew Thornton is a good jockey who has served Mrs Rimell well," said Smith.

"Her husband was a good friend of mine and I think it's a great young horse.

"I would certainly put an each-way bet on him."

"That's my fancy, but it's quite an open race and no-one else particularly stands out. They all have a chance - they wouldn't be there if they didn't think that.

"I've never gone in for any of this spread betting. I remember one race where the tic-tac men were overwhelmed with crowds of people trying to put money on a horse to come second. But for me, you bet on who comes first."

Coming first is something that Mr Smith - who has also backed Crook-based Howard Johnson to emerge as the weekend's leading trainer - knows all about.

Red Alligator's victory nearly 40 years ago saw the horse storm home over the last fence by 20 lengths from Moidore's Token and Different Class.

"Winning the National was one of the thrills of my life," he said. "I rode all over the country but there's only one Grand National."