The Grand National – well the name says it all.
In an increasingly packed sporting calendar, this weekend is special. As well as the world’s one genuinely global steeplechase, one can watch the Masters golf from the US, a Formula One race in China and the start of the IPL cricket in India. The British sports fan can supplement this with the County Championship cricket, a round of domestic soccer and top flight rugby.
Some will put the verdant majesty of The Masters at the top of their list. But let’s be honest; golf fans are dweebs and this generation of players are somewhat uninspiring. If I wanted to watch humourless millionaires chase a white ball I would go to Harry’s bar in the city.
But pride of place for me will always be the sport of kings, whose fans are sordid and disreputable and combatants brave and witty.
Indecently, for a race that stops a nation the National is a bit of an afterthought – following the class of the Cheltenham festival – for a hardened race goer. But, for all that, it is a brilliant one.
The race does, however, represent my first experience of the sport. Whilst most minds drift to spring when the daffodils begin to show and the elegant sun dances his opener, mine in early bloom thinks of the four miles around Liverpool’s Aintree.
It was an occasion to savour even when I wore short trousers and my cheeks were red and chubby. The annual scrap across the breakfast table between my brother, father and I for the pull-out section was always violent: three ignorant asses studying the form and the weights. Our pretentions were quickly shattered when my sister – who chooses exclusively by the silks – would pick the winner more often than not. My poor Mother’s selection invariably fell.
I remember, on occasions, clusters of men shouting their odds at the television, each surrounded by half a dozen betting slips and a racing post. Whisky would slop from their glasses as they willed on the ‘sure thing’, usually to no avail.
Never forget that the first winner of the race in 1893 was called Lottery, which I think sums up the punters’ chance. Moreover, picking a winner of the 40 horse race is almost impossible but boy don’t we feel clever when we do.
I remember the year after the death of my dog, Tirri, I opened the centrefold of the Racing Post and I sentimentally dropped his lead on the runners and riders. I put a bet on the horse where the buckle landed – Auroras Encore, which won – of course – at 66/1.
So, we have established that gambling is a fool’s game, yet a bet on the National is a glorious thing.
My rule for a win bet is don’t put money on any horse carrying more than 11 stone 1, because it will tire, and nothing lower than 10 stone 11, because it won’t be good enough. However, a place bet I would be looking at saddle numbers 27 and below.
With this, albeit crude plan of weights and form in place, I would suggest Vieux Lion Rouge (11/1), Blacklion (12/1), Cause of Causes (14/1) and Pleasant Company (14/1) as a stand out quartet.
And for those of you dear readers that like an outsider I like Lord Windomere (50/1), Perfect Candidate (50/1), Goodtoknow (50/1) and Just a Par (50/1). I can promise you they will not win but may scrap into the places.