While Cheltenham remains the Mecca for British National Hunt racing, there’s something special about the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
The excitement in the air is tangible and the atmosphere flamboyant. Nowhere else does tweed stand shoulder to (often bare) shoulder so comfortably with outfits that would be equally at home at a summer wedding or a night out on the tiles.
The ladies of Liverpool spend months prepping for the big day. The Friday that is. As shares in spray tan companies rocket, I feel considerably over dressed — in a fabric-to-skin ratio at least.
Aside from the obligatory tweed suit brigade, outfits ranged from long flowing maxi dresses and ballerina-style tutu skirts to skin-tight mini dresses. Most were in bright colours; all were complemented by sky high expensive shoes — the kind that are designed to take you from your door, to a taxi, to a sit down event, not to spend six hours traipsing round a racecourse.
But anyway, back to the main event. Not only are the ladies primped and polished, but the horses also looked immaculate. The £100 prize in each race for best turned out was thoroughly deserved and a special mention goes to the best turned out National horse, Ballyfitz.
Place your bets
According to a survey of 2,000 housewives released earlier in the week, the top 10 reasons for women betting on a horse in the National include silks colours, the name and how good looking the jockey is.
Whatever the reason, a lot of people went home happy today. And one man who will definitely be smiling tonight — and well into the foreseeable future — is AP McCoy.
The cheer that went up as he entered the winners’ enclosure on the Jonjo O’Neill trained Don’t Push It was deafening. Whether money was lost or won, everyone seemed genuinely thrilled that the champion had finally broken his Grand National duck, on his 15th attempt.
And the look of pure elation as he celebrated with a jubilant Peter Kay on the winners’ rostrum was heart warming.
On the brink of tears, he admitted that this was the most emotional thing that has ever happened to him, besides the birth of his daughter Eve. When he decides to retire he will be able to do so without the weight of being forever on the list of champions never to win the National hanging over him.
Here’s hoping he’s finally recognised by the sports industry as a whole and at least gets a nomination for sports personality of the year this time, as apparently riding 3,000 winners was not enough.
A team event
It was also a great day for owner JP McManus — another first time winner of the race and a man that puts so much into racing. It was wonderful to see him rewarded. Though he must have experienced a wildly different emotion at the start when another of his runners, King Johns Castle, dug in his heels and refused to race, yet trotted quite happily back to the stables once the other 39 contenders were safely fading into the distance.
You have to spare a thought for Ruby Walsh too — to fall from Celestial Halo just two races before the National and miss the main event must have been sickening.
And so that’s it for another year as I watch the last stragglers pick their way through a sea of discarded betting slips and empty beer glasses, many with stilettos in hand, several in a less than straight line, all of them having enjoyed themselves. And none more so than two novice punters who defined “beginners’ luck” by winning more than £20,000 from a £20 placepot bet. Maybe next year…