Grand National mania lights up Aintree

Grand National mania lights up Aintree
auroras encore wins the grand national vg tips

Auroras Encore wins. Photo by @aintreeinsider

The Grand National is alive and well, I am happy to report, writes Vernon Grant.

It’s never been my favourite race personally. But that has more to do with it being the punting equivalent of pinning the tail on the donkey. I have won on the Grand National over the years. But I have lived many more years than I have backed the winner of the most watched race in the world.

Aintree was a sell out. The new broadcaster transmitting pictures to very nearly nine million viewers did a great job. As did the new, more touchy feely fences that had a plastic filling. It seemed clear to me that the horses were brushing through those particular fences easier than usual.

And the race got off to a good start. We had all tired of seeing too many false starts earlier in the three day meeting. But strong words were had with the jockeys about how important it was that they lined up correctly and that the spectacle got off to an even start. And the race was off at the first time of asking. Job well done.

Experienced former jockeys such as John Francome will tell you that if this race is sanatized too much, it will cease to be special and become like any other big field handicap. Many will say that the field should not be fewer than the forty that raced on Saturday. I would have no objection were the field reduced to thirty five. But I get where those expert voices are coming from.

The Grand National cannot be special just because it is called that. It has to be special. It must be different. It is the difference that attracts the worldwide audience and sees millions of people place their one and only bet of the year.

I was pleased to see the field more spaced out than in past years and also delighted that many more jockeys than usual pulled up their tired horses. Evidently an instruction went out to jockeys not to try and force horses to go that extra mile.

When I think back to the Grand Nationals of the 1960’s and 70’s, and how tired horses were kept going; well I do not like to relive those races too often. And, let us not forget, jockeys used to be allowed to get back on fallen horses and keep riding them. They were different times.

This year Ryan Mania rode Auroras Encore to a clear and relatively easy victory at odds of 66-1. There are still search parties out to find anyone who backed the horse.

auroras encore back home with the smiths in yorkshire vgtips

The winner back home in Yorkshire

I used to live down the road from trainer Sue Smith and her husband Harvey Smith. In his showjumping days, when Harvey became as famous for flashing the ‘V’ sign at judges as for winning trophies, he was not a man who suffered fools gladly. Many years later, when he was my near neighbour, that had not changed. I saw Harvey most mornings, riding out the horses with at least one his sons.

There was one infamous incident when Harvey rode the horses across nearby Baildon Golf Club.  A steward was brave enough to have words with Smith who, in turn, didn’t waste time telling the man what to do with his putter; he just acted out his suggestion. The case ended up in court.

Sue Smith is a good trainer. A patient one. She has learned patience from living with the cantankerous Harvey. But she will have also learned lots about horses from him.

It’s good when aspiring, low profile trainers win big races. And it’s great when a young jockey like Ryan Mania, who nearly gave up the game a short while ago, enjoys a high profile victory.

For both, it must make the dark days, the vast mileage, the expense, the weeks of no winners – it must make that all feel worthwhile.

The Grand National will never be risk free. In years to come horses will fall and die. But in much smaller numbers than was the case decades ago.

Only one of those forty horses could win the Grand National. Favourites shouldn’t win the National. 66-1 shots should.

The best result of all on Saturday was that we saw 40 horses set off, and we saw 40 come back safe and sound.

And, for me and many others who love racing, that was the best result of all.

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