I have had to budget carefully this week because I know that on Saturday I will be spending £5 more than I would normally spend. I’m not particularly frugal when it comes to cash, but the bookie – and the one-armed bandit – seldom tempt me.
However, on Saturday I will be having a fiver flutter on the Grand National.
A year ago Gala jockey and Braw Lad Ryan Mania piloted home Auroras Encore to the Aintree winning post at his first attempt. It was a 66-1 shot, but early punters secured 100-1. The whole of Gala seemed to be in on it – except me.
As I wrote then, it was only while watching the closing stages of the race on the telly that a lad frae guid auld Gala was about to win one of horse racing’s top challenges.
Ryan is back in the saddle at the Liverpool course this weekend. He’s got six mounts, including outsider Mr Moonshine in the four-and-a-half-mile National. Auroras has retired, but Ryan is bidding for a back-to-back victory. The down-to-earth 24-year-old would be chuffed to bits, but admits it’s a tall call. Ride on, Ryan – my Grand National fiver is tucked away in a place of safety ready to be placed on Mr Moonshine. I won’t be caught napping twice.
I don’t follow horse racing, but I love the Foinavon story. There’s rarely a Grand National year when the BBC doesn’t show footage of the unfancied, cumbersome, Irish steed’s crowning moment in the Sport of Kings.
It was April 8, 1967. Foinavon had once been in the stable of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, who also owned the legendary Arkle. The two horses were as different as chalk and cheese. Arkle was a winner, Foinavon a definite loser – so it and the duchess parted company.
New owner John Kempton had more faith and after some hard work decided to enter the National. He could never, in his wildest dreams, have foreseen what would happen on that spring Saturday in Liverpool.
Lagging from the start, the odds should really have been 500-1. But racing can be both cruel and kind.
Having unceremoniously dumped its jockey onto the Aintree turf, Popam Down lived up to its surname and at one of the lowest jumps on the course – the one before Canal Turn – brought down the leaders and what seemed like the majority of the field.
You have to grin when you see what happened next.
Foinavon, almost put of sight at the back, plodded on and was cleverly steered through the clutter of fallen horses and riders by John Buckingham to take the front.
Now, that must have been a strange sight for Foinavon. Rarely, indeed if ever, would he have seen an empty course in front of him.
But Foinavon wasn’t used to winning – and he hadn’t won yet. Some of the stunned fallen grabbed their horses and gallantly re-mounted and joined the chase. Josh Gifford, on Honey’s End, pushed Foinavon hard – but the up-until-now loser held on for a truly remarkable, unbelievable, but memorable, Grand National victory.
And it did prove to be memorable. The fence which paved the way for Foinavon now bears that name.
Foinavon had one Gala connection. My mum had it in her work’s sweep – but, like me, wasn’t a gambler and never had a bet.