I’VE ALWAYS LOVED A PUNT. It all started back in 1982 when I was a second year student at Durham University studying Single Honours Politics. Only my real passion was studying the form down at the local bookies. Not that I was any good at it mind, but that was all about to change, when I was tipped up a 100/1 Grand National runner by fellow student Bryan Burrough.
Bryan owned a racehorse entered into the 1983 Grand National. It had been gifted to him by his racing-fanatic of a father for his 21st birthday. “My horse is going to win the Grand National!” he had proclaimed with great conviction.
As one might imagine, I was a little sceptical. Owning a jumper and winning the Grand National were about as connected as me presenting a TV show that people actually tuned into. But such was his faith and total belief that his horse was going to win the big one, combined with the inevitable excitement that 100/1 offers any punter, I found myself scraping together whatever pennies I had on a number of each-way Grand National bets on my new friend’s nag.
Only it wasn’t a nag. Over the next six months it ran consistently well, culminating in a victory in the Welsh Grand National – always considered a major pointer for Aintree. When the big day finally arrived, his horse had been backed down to 13/1 third favourite behind the Irish raider (and favourite) Greasepaint. I have never been so nervous – the culmination of all my 50p each-way bets at odds from 100/1 all the way down to 13/1, represented a tidy fortune for a lowly student.
Inevitably – with a four-figure return potentially beckoning – I found myself feverishly studying the form on the morning of the race, determined to lay-off any potential threats. Yet I could only see one – the favourite, Greasepaint. £10 each-way on the market leader was therefore had, plus a £10 reverse forecast with my nag for good measure. All that was left now was the race.
I was so nervous that I opted not to watch it on the big screen, but instead listened to it on my friend’s car radio. What was I thinking? There’s a reason radio is so popular. Nothing captures the excitement of any live sporting event quite like it.
Coming with a wet sail
Now for all you experts out there, I’m assuming you will have no doubt already cottoned on to who I was backing. For those who haven’t, I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice to say my boy hit the front over the last, and surged clear towards the elbow and what seemed certain victory for jockey Ben de Haan. But the racing Gods had one last tortuous turn in store. Peter O’Sullivan uttered the one thing I didn’t want to hear: “And coming with a wet sail is the favourite Greasepaint!”
Time suddenly stood still. I think I was screaming at the radio, but all I could hear were the words of the greatest racehorse commentator of our time, calling the favourite home. A length became a neck, a neck a head, a head a short head. It was all on the nod – photograph – one of the most exciting Grand National finish of recent times.
Of course, my friend was right – his horse, Corbiere, did win the 1983 Grand National. Jenny Pitman did become a household name as the first ever female trainer to win the greatest race on earth, and I of course was hooked for life.
I’ve managed just two Grand National winners since that fateful day (West Tip and Rule the World), but it makes no difference. Every year come April, I’ll be scouring the Racing Post for this year’s 100/1 shot. Life’s a gamble – you can bet on it.
Jonny Gould, a popular Baseball presenter in the UK, writes courtesy of the International Racing Club