The Grand National
Saturday 10th April
Red Rum, Garrison Savannah, the whole family gathering in front of the telly, Grandma putting 50p e/w on, queues down the road outside the bookies. Party Politics on the eve of the 1992 General Election, the ‘National that never was’ the following year, who did you get in the sweep? 100/1 winners, the bookies will be laughing, Paul Nicholls, Jenny Pittman…and they’re off!
‘Why is the nation so transfixed with the Grand National?’ I pondered upon deciding to blog this a week or so ago. I haven’t really got the answer to this so I hope you are content with my Paul Whitehouse-esque reminiscing of previous years races.
In a change to the norm of a DTVSr I didn’t watch the whole four hours of coverage of the programme. As it was centred around a race that lasts around 10 minutes I couldn’t really devote all that time to it or more honestly, be bothered to. This did lead to the odd situation of walking around ASDA and making a bee-line for the their sound and vision section as I could make out a virtual run of the Aintree Course on their many TV sets. ‘Them porcine mushrooms will still be there in 5 minutes’ was the blunt decision I (correctly) made as I parked myself in front of the assembled mass of wide screen/HD teleboxes.
The programme had began with a textbook slightly arty BBC opening sequence that had the horses racing through various streets, city centres and past landmarks that then merged into the course. Claire Balding introduced the programme and we were quickly shown a montage of clips featuring Champion Jockey Tony McCoy who was yet to win a National as well as the winning rider from last years race, Liam Tredwell who won on 100/1 outsider Mon Mome.
The build up was largely made up of plenty of interviews and features on Jockeys, Trainers and Owners taking part in the race and those who’d had involvement in the past. As I say, I’m not hugely knowledgeable about the old Racing game but its hard not to be impressed by the time, effort and emotion invested by people that came across in some of these clips. Other than those involved in the business the other main interviewees seemed to be celebrities and the stand out for me was Peter Kay who we then found out would be presenting the trophy. I’m ashamed to say that it’s only as I’m typing this now that I’ve realised it’s due to Kay’s association with the race sponsors John Smith’s that presented us with this mildly ludicrous scenario.
The other races from the meeting were also covered but the only one I got to see was the 2.50 which produced high drama that would have an effect on the main attraction. Ruby Walsh who was due to be on the ante-post favourite Big Fella Thanks suffered a bad fall while riding Celestial Halo that resulted in a broken arm. Again, even to the less knowledgeable racing observer this was obviously a huge bit of news (especially as I know who he is) as every couple of minutes updates on the state of Walsh’s injury were given. Paddy Brennan, the winning jockey of this race in the immediate post-race interview (which takes place as the rider is still on the horse) asked ‘is Ruby ok’ as we were informed that ‘all jockeys know when someone’s had a bad fall, and that was a bad fall.’
John Parrott and Gary Wiltshire who were out amongst the bookies talked of how this could effect the betting but both seemed more concerned that Walsh would miss the race and Wiltshire, who was otherwise my hero of the coverage perhaps exaggerated when he commented ‘it’s a tragedy Ruby wont race in the National.’ I’ve seen Wiltshire on gambling related programmes before and enjoy his big loud cockney enthusiasm when announcing for example: 'the ‘panntarrs(punters) are snapping it appp(up) at dabble(double) carrrrrpitt(carpet.)’
Just before the race we got the full list of runners and riders to a funky electro-dance backdrop that didn’t feel quite right as the veteran commentator Jim McGrath announced them. We were also treated to a section I was equally amused by before this year’s Gold Cup as one of the reporters ‘on the ground’ asks a row of punters who they’ve backed. This inevitably results in a row of people with different levels of on-screen confidence:
Reporter: ‘So Madam who do you think will win today?’
Smirking Lady: ‘….Tricky Trickster’
Smirking Ladies Husband: ‘Big Fella Thanks’
Nervous Looking Lady: ‘Clou…Cloudy Lane’
Giggling possibly Drunk Lady: ‘Beat the Boys whoooooo’
Shyer friend of Giggling possibly Drunk Lady: ‘yeah Beat the Boys’
‘Likely looking’ Lad with arm around his mate: ‘Don’t Push it…Come on AP lad bring it home’
Young boy: Mon Mone
Reporter: As you can see everyone’s backed what they hope will be the winner.
Collective Crowd: ‘Whayyy’
I’m not entirely sure what the journalistic merit is in this but this now appears to be the norm across the sporting spectrum.
Parrott and Wiltshire were whipping themselves up into a right frenzy as they reported many of the prices on the horses being slashed. Wiltshire then waved a betting slip around for 'five bags of sand' that one punter had placed on Bring it Home and that had contributed to bringing it in to 10-1 Joint favourite.
As they lined up to begin the two most noteworthy sights was the volume of unsightly white sweat coming from now joint favourite Bring it Home and that one of the other riders was unseated from his Nag and struggling to get on as a seemingly difficult attempt to start the race was in progress. The race began at a second attempt but King Johns Castle didn’t and both the clearly uncomfortable horse and the frustrated, albeit now seated jockey looked forlorn figure’s as the rest of the field galloped off into the distance.
Conna Castle made the early running and lead until fence 21 of 30. There was the usual large volume of falls but very few of them seemed to be of the stomach-churning variety you often see in this race and fortunately none of the horses had to be put down as a result of injuries caused over this most celebrated 4 miles and 4 furlongs. On approaching Beecher’s Brook, Black Apalachi was now leading a group of 5 who were a considerable distance ahead of the rest of the field with Don't Push It on his tail. Having cleared the last it was now between these two but Don't Push It appeared to have a lot more left in the engine and ended up winning reasonably comfortably by five lengths.
1.Don't Push It (Tony McCoy) 10-1jf
2.Black Apalachi (Denis O'Regan) 14-1
3.State of Play (Paul Moloney) 16-1
4.Big Fella Thanks (Barry Geraghty) 10-1jf
As well as the weigh in, various interviews and trophy presentation we were told the bookies had took a hammering as not only had a favourite won, but they'd took plenty of bets on the other 3 placed horses as well. My newly crowned 'voice of the people' Gary Wiltshire gleefully waved the £5000 stake winning betting slip and expressed delighted that it had been a day for the punters.
I approached this particular entry with a passing but no great enthusiasm for Racing, however as with Cheltenham earlier in the year was genuinely impressed at quality of the event. Its the people who are the best at what they do, doing on the biggest stage and that deserves the respect and coverage it attracts. As for the horses, as I once said to great mate Steve 'Steveo' Garner: 'they look like a good set of lads' as well.
2011 Grand National
Saturday 11th April 2011