With Joes Edge starting as the Grand National favourite this afternoon, Scott Wilson spoke to his trainer, Ferdy Murphy, and discovered the handler boasts an Aintree love affair that has lasted more than 50 years.

MARCH 1956, Aintree, and almost 100,000 spectators are left speechless as Devon Loch collapses in the final furlong of a never-to-be-forgotten Grand National.

March 1956, Wexford, and almost two dozen enthused Irishmen are crammed into the front room of a small house in Clonroche, a town whose racing roots will eventually be cemented by arguably its most revered son, Aidan O'Brien.

With the Irish economy still largely undeveloped, few families can afford the luxury of a radio reliable enough to guarantee commentary of a race that has been the sole topic of conversation for the best part of a month.

So when word gets around that the Murphys are one such family, it does not take long for half of Clonroche to converge on their living room.

Space is consequently at a premium but, in the corner of the room, a six-year-old called Ferdy is fortunate enough to have elbowed his way into a prime listening position.

Over the course of the next ten minutes, the wide-eyed youngster is transported into a world of drama and excitement that he can barely comprehend.

And while he might not have realised as much at the time, the remainder of his life is never going to be the same again.

"I look back on that day and that's still what the National is all about to me," said Murphy, now 59, based at Wynbury stables in the North Yorkshire village of West Witton, and one of the most highly-respected racehorse trainers in the land.

"It's always been a race that brings people and communities together, and even though so much has changed in my lifetime, I still think that applies today.

"I was brought up in a time and a place when the horse was king. Nobody had a motor car, it was all plough horses, and racing was in the blood.

"All the big races brought the town to a standstill, but the Grand National was the one race that kept people going for months at a time.

"All the talk for a month beforehand was about what was going to win, and all the talk for a month afterwards was about what went wrong and what went right.

"It's the one race that can still make me feel like an excited child and it's the one race with a magic that's hard to explain."

It is also one of the few races missing from Murphy's ever-increasing CV.

The amiable Irishman boasts two Scottish Grand National successes, an Irish Grand National first and second and has even won Midlands Grand Nationals and the Northern National in the past.

Earlier this year, he saddled two big-priced winners at the Cheltenham Festival, but it is the prospect of an Aintree triumph that continues to drive him on.

"You can talk about the Gold Cup, but I think training a National winner is the ultimate success," said Murphy.

"It's the one that you're going to be remembered for but, so far, it's the one that's got away."

This afternoon, though, thanks to ante-post favourite Joes Edge, his barren run could be about to come to an end.

A Scottish Grand National winner in 2005, Joes Edge underlined his Aintree credentials by defying odds of 50-1 to land the ultra-competitive William Hill Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Well in at the weights - the ten-year-old will be almost two stone lighter than top-weight Hedgehunter - and partnered by former National winner, Graham Lee, Joes Edge has been backed down from 25-1 outsider to 9-1 favourite in less than a fortnight.

Last year, as a lightly-raced nine-year-old, he finished seventh over the National fences as Numbersixvalverde landed a considerable gamble.

Twelve months on, and it is Joes Edge himself who stands to cost the bookmakers the best part of a million pounds.

"You can never be too confident about the National," said Murphy. "But you'd have to say that he's going there with a hell of a chance.

"To win a National nowadays, you have to combine stamina and jumping ability with a fair bit of class.

"Joe's won the Scottish so you can see he's got the former, but he's also won over two-and-a-half miles at Aintree (2005's John Smith's Novices Handicap Chase) which suggests he's got plenty of the latter as well. He's got a turn of foot to go with everything else.

"He jumped ever so well at Aintree last year, but he rattled the 23rd and that really cost him. I don't think we would have been in the shake-up if he hadn't done that, but I definitely think it cost us three or four places.

"He jumped well again at Cheltenham last month and he's come back to himself really well after that run. To be honest, we couldn't really have asked for a better preparation."

Apart, of course, from the nervous wait that preceded confirmation of Joes Edge's involvement.

Originally balloted out of the race, Murphy's charge still needed nine more horses to drop out at last weekend's seven-day declaration stage.

He eventually crept in as the 39th declared runner when Fota Island, Armaturk and Iris Royal were taken out on Thursday, enabling his trainer to breathe a massive sigh of relief.

"It would obviously have been disappointing if he hadn't made it," said Murphy. "But that would have been the way that racing goes sometimes.

"We've always been pretty confident that he would get in, so we've been preparing him solely with the National in mind.

"He did a great piece of work with Graham last Friday, and we gave him a final blow on the beach at Redcar earlier this week. He's one of those horses that loves a bit of a change, so hopefully that's brought him right to the boil."

His fate will be decided over 30 of the toughest fences in racing this afternoon. But while Murphy will be straining every sinew to keep track of his progress, the Irishman's thoughts will also be drifting back to a packed front room more than half-a-century ago.

"The racing game is totally different to when I started," he said.

"It's a business now, and there's no going back from that.

"It used to be about the experience, now it's about the book. Everything comes down to pound notes and people have come in to change the way the sport is organised.

"They've changed an awful lot of things, but they'll never change the feeling that you get from having a winner. That's the one thing that's stayed the same from when I was introduced to racing as a boy."

At around 4.30pm this afternoon, Murphy is hoping to be experiencing that feeling on the greatest stage of them all.