Of Mice, Horses and Men

Let’s all have opinions on things we don’t understand – ha, it must have been Grand National week.

“It’s crazy, it’s dangerous, and horses die” say the preachy left or ‘neigh’ sayers.

Of course, on some sad occasions, they are correct and, by all means, they are entitled to an opinion. However, I am too, and I have little doubt that they are wrong. So, they should shut their snappy little beaks and get back to their allotments, the Guardian, and cups of tea.

To say that horse racing is reckless blood lust is just so far wide of the mark that some of the protestors appear like satirists. 

Even in a layman’s eyes, it is glaringly obvious that the racing fraternity care more for animal welfare – investing a ridiculous amount of emotion, time, and money to the sport – than some townie who has never had the sublime pleasure of going to a race meet.  

Snipes aside, let’s revel in the human and equine triumph of the weekend.

To any keen eye, or perhaps inveterate and unfortunate reader of this blog, you will have noticed my mild obsession with horse racing. The Grand National was the unruly beast that first grabbed my attention to the sport – it was rather like watching a massive Lawrence Dallaglio tackle; all beast but sprinkled with a delicious amount of beauty. 

I am not alone in these feelings. The Grand National is the most famous horse race in the United Kingdom – arguably in the world. And, with £150million stumped on the race, it is fair to say that even the housewives stop to watch.

This year’s outsider coming in meant that, after the early estimates, bookmakers are believed to have made £75 million profit. It just shows that, while the punters may have had a few good days as they did in last month’s Cheltenham Festival, in the long run the bookmakers always come out on top.

It would be remiss of me to dodge the thorny issue of the giant fences and even grosser falls. However, it happens and as horrible as it is, it could happen anywhere – the greatest steeplechaser of the modern era, Kauto Star, died in his stable by kicking out and the prince incumbent, Sprinter Sacre, suffered a near-fatal heart attack but jumped his fences. 

Before last weeks race, I finished reading John Pinfold’s comprehensive book on the history of the National. Reading it made me realise what a great national event the race is. Pinfold writes beautifully on the subject and never more so than when discussing animal welfare.

“Why do mountaineers want to climb Everest? Because it is the most dangerous and the most challenging for a climber,” he writes. “It is very much the same with the Grand National, and it is the job of those in charge to strike the balance between ensuring safety for all and retaining the magic and fascination of the challenge.”

This weekend people flooded to the bookmakers and put their fiver on a horse they didn’t know existed – for one day, the sport I cherish, is splendidly sold to the masses. As for the race – the course like a sticky river of mud, created a messy race that rewarded fortitude and timing. 

The Last Samuri, which I backed, and Vic Canvas were slugging it out like ageing heavyweight boxers in the final round when Irish raider Rule the World, emerged from the pack, and produced a mighty leap at the last and ghosted past the tired leaders. 

The impeccably timed attack from the David Mullins piloted, Rule the World, turned an arduous scrap in the sludge into a supreme walk over, as the nine-year old hosed up the long home straight. 

The horse, who has broken his pelvis twice before, has been expertly and tenderly coerced back to full health by the marvellous Irish trainer Mouse Morris. Unsurprisingly for a man named Mouse, the old cove is a character – all hair, smiles, looks as if he likes a tipple, and a cigarette perma-clamped to his jaw. 

Behind the bold exterior was sadness. 

When the stouthearted horse passed the post, Morris looked up to sky in pure emotion but not to give thanks to God. 

Last year Morris’ son, Tiffer died, and for a split second the horse leaping over the big fences had given the man a slither of joyful escapism. Morris was showing delight and regret, that his son was absent; in an unholy pocket of emotion in front of the nation, only horse racing could produce this emotive solidarity.


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