There Is Only One Race – The GRAND NATIONAL!
This entry was posted on Saturday, March 28th, 2009
THERE was the ‘Race of the Century’ when Grundy and Bustino locked horns for the King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot in 1975. And there’s the ‘Race that stops a Nation’ – the Melbourne Cup when the whole of Australia grinds to a halt to watch a handicap, albeit a very valuable one! There was even a two-legged version of the ‘Race of the Century’ when Seb Coe – now Lord Coe – and Steve Ovett – still plain, old Mr Ovett – clashed in the 800 metres final at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
But there is only one race that captures the hearts and minds of virtually the whole world – and that’s the Grand National. Punters who never bet on the other 364 days of the year and even have a pathological fear of entering a betting shop, find themselves in the queue at the bookies just a few hours before the tapes go up at Aintree.
Of course, the race doesn’t always live up to its reputation. How many films given ‘must see’ reviews have turned out to be no better than average? But more often than not it does match its billing as the toughest test of horse and man ever devised.
Over the years there have been more National dramas than I have space to mention. Some come more readily to mind than others. Some are even celebrated year after year like Foinavon, the 100-1 winner whose memory is evoked when the field jumps the seventh fence on the first circuit, which becomes the 23rd obstacle on the second lap.
It’s actually one of the smallest fences on the track, measuring only 4ft 6in in height and you’d expect the riders – and the horses – would relax a little having just jumped Becher’s Brook, one of the most fearsome of Aintree’s obstacles.
But since 1967 its name has been etched inexorably into Aintree folklore. It was in that year’s National that the riderless and well-named Popham Down cut across the field causing absolute mayhem and bringing almost all the remaining runners to a standstill. But the unconsidered Foinavon was so far back at the time that he wasn’t inconvenienced by the carnage that was unfolding ahead of him and his jockey, John Buckingham. The pair sailed past the carnage and on to a victory that left most of the crowd speechless.
What about the race that was abandoned? That happened in 1997 when bomb threats caused the race to be called off. You can imagine the chaos that ensued and the Tote were reported to have left behind a cool half a million pounds, which was removed the following day under police escort. However, it was reported that one Tote girl had the presence of mind to walk out of the course on the Saturday with £7,000 stuffed into her knickers! She obviously didn’t trust the locals. The National is, after all, run in Liverpool! The race was run on the following Monday, but truth to tell, it had lost much of its atmosphere.
Or what about the time, four years earlier, when there was a false start with 30 of the 39 riders failing to realise that they had been recalled? Eleven of them pulled up after one circuit but seven others ploughed on regardless jumping all 30 fences and completing the full, gruelling four and a half miles.
The winner-that-never-was turned out to be Esha Ness, trained by Jenny Pitman, who was to win for real with Royal Athlete in 1995. She had become the first woman to train a National winner when Corbiere triumphed in 1983.
So those are just a few National triumphs and disasters. What will this year’s race add to racing’s history books? You don’t have long to wait to find out… the big race is on Saturday April 4th.
I can’t wait.
And what’s new this year online? Well those punters with the Internet to hand on the day will be able to lay bets during the actual race at many of the highstreet bookmaker online websites including Betfair. It will be quite interesting to have a further flutter, say if your backed horse succumbs to Aintree’s early tough fences, and hopefully recoup and win.