So, last month we had the Cheltenham Festival and I made out like it was the biggest spectacle of the horse racing calendar (if you missed that post, check that out here). Well, for me and horse racing purists, it really is.
However, for the general public and those people that don’t “get” horse racing, the Aintree Festival is the big one, simply because it culminates with the Grand National, the biggest betting race of the year and the race where once a year bettors have a bet. From what I read, weekend of the 2010 Grand National will be one of the biggest betting days of the year, with the US Masters, all sorts of soccer and, of course, the Grand National.
And I don’t get it. I really don’t. Well, from a betting perspective, I don’t. Why do people insist on having their one bet of the year on a 40 runner jumps race where nearly anything could win? Hell, nearly anything HAS won the race over the 150+ years it’s been run. We’ve had favorites win, we’ve had huge outsiders win, we’ve had a jockey that beat cancer riding a horse that was, for the most part, a has-been and useless.
And THAT is the reason they back horses in it. It’s the people’s race. It’s the race that captures the hearts of the public. The British public hold Red Rum in the hearts almost as much as the Queen. However, they hold Crisp in almost as high regard, even though he lost to Red Rum. Jenny Pitman is loved by them because she was the first woman to train a Grand National winner.
It’s not the oldest horse race in the world, not by a long shot. Yes, it can be seen as cruel, as the fences, added to the size of the field make it dangerous, but there is something about it. In the UK, offices run pools every year so each person has a different horse. It’s a tradition. They pull the name of the horse out of the bag and for the rest of the day, all the talk is, “Does my horse have a chance? Do you think it’ll make it round?” Not much work gets done the day the pool gets drawn for the Grand National, that’s for sure.
So, there we go, it’s not a betting spectacle in the true sense, even though the bookies will go a roaring trade. Oh, no. The reason they do a roaring trade is because so many one time bettors will come out and back 10 horses for everyone in their family, but it is only small stakes. And that’s the way even I play the Grand National.
I bet on the Grand National in small stakes. I don’t see it as a great way to make money. I watch the preamble, I sit and watch the commentators go through all 40 runners, telling me about their seasons and I watch the memories of Red Rum winning, through to Party Politics, up to the National that never was in ’95 (God, do I remember that year with the IRA making the bomb threat), to Amberleigh House, up to Mon Mome last year. And after all that, I sit with the names of the two or three horses I’ve backed each way for small stakes, I sit on the edge of my seat at every jump and try to keep an eye on where my horses are in the field, although it’s impossible with that many runners.
And for the seven minutes, even a seasoned gambler like myself gets wrapped up in the whole spectacle. I jump every fence with them. And even if, as is standard, my horses have fallen by this point of the race, I sit on the edge of my seat as the leaders reach the elbow, preparing to go toe to toe in the final battle up the home straight, because I know this race will be part of horse racing history, regardless of the result. People will talk about it on Monday, the racing websites and sports pages will be filled with chat about it and millions will have been won and lost as the first horse finishes the 4 mile marathon.
And what do I fancy for the 2010 Grand National? Well, I would suggest sticking a pin in the racing form a couple of times and backing those horses each-way, but then that would be a cop out, wouldn’t it? Black Apalachi was going well last year until he fell. And why not give Character Building a shot, too? That’s the two horses that will be getting my each-way shekels and, although I’m not confident I’ll make any money from the race, I know it’ll be the best money I’ll have spent this year in terms of entertainment. If I win, great. If not, well, no harm done.