Horse racing isn’t perhaps the fixture of British life that it once was. In the old days, if you wanted to gamble, your choices were limited. Punters put their money down on either the football pools, greyhounds or the horses. Of the three, the latter was by far the most popular. A bookies sat on every high street, ready to take the cash from chaps who fancied a flutter on the gee gees. Today, the bookies have to compete for trade with the National Lottery and a burgeoning casino industry.
But there’s still one race that has huge chunks of the British population risking a hard earned pound or two on a randomly chosen steed. The Grand National has been run almost every year since 1839, at the Aintree racecourse in Liverpool. The most valuable race in Europe, infamous as the toughest test of horse and man in the world, and watched globally by well over half a billion people. It is, many would argue, the biggest horse race in the world. Others, of course, would argue otherwise. It is a dangerous race though. Horse fatalities are not rare. Two died last year and two the year before. On average, more horses will fall or throw their rider than will finish. One year, only six of the forty horses made it to the end with the jockey intact.
I’m not a gambler. I dislike losing money too much to ever really make much of a gambler. But I’ve always put a few pounds on the Grand National. Three pounds to be precise. One pound each on three horses. I won once, back in the very early 90’s on Seagram. He was one of the favourites, so I didn’t make much. I’ll always put a pound on a favourite, a pound on one of the dark horses and a pound on an outright outsider. It’s my ‘system’. It’s not, as my record shows, a particularly successful system.
This year I picked Imperial Commander, Ballabriggs and Auroras Encore. The latter was chosen because I plucked him out of the envelope in the work sweepstakes. So I stuck a pound on him at Ladbrokes too. His starting price was 66/1. Only a couple of horses at 50/1 or more had triumphed in the last half a century. So I hedged my bets and put another pound on him, each way. He was 100/1 when I laid down my pound – a serious outsider.
It was an inspired decision. My nag kept up with the front runners from the off. Heck, I won’t provide a belated running commentary. You can watch the whole race – I’ve embedded it below. You’ll just have to picture me in front of the telly. Resigned at defeat as he stumbled over the third from last fence. Renewed interest as he managed to regain ground at the second from last. Shouting, cheering and maybe a curse word or two as he stormed over the last without breaking stride as his rivals started to find it tough going. Sheer delight as he ran away from the field over the final furlong. Another curse word or two.
My winnings? I’ve relieved Ladbrokes of £127. And I am, perhaps for the first time ever, looking forward to work on Monday morning, so I can pick up my £40 from the sweepstakes. I know. It’s not exactly going to change my life. But £167 for free? Yes please! I haven’t loved a horse so much since I had a Tescos burger a few weeks ago.