Thursday, 11 April 2013

The 2013 Grand National

Aintree Racecourse

6th April 2013

The term “bucket-list” has sort of crept into contemporary parlance over the last few years or so primarily, I should guess, in the wake of the film of the same name.  But for us Groundhoppers the concept has long been around: for we all have this list of sporting arenas we wish to visit before we “kick" the aforementioned bucket.  The prime difference is that we, or most of us anyway, are not lugging a terminal medical time-bomb around within us.  At least, one hopes not.

And the appearance of The Grand National in this blog represents one such ticking-off from my personal bucket-list, I suppose.  To be followed later this year (should I be spared) by an Ashes Match, the British Open Golf plus the Rugby League World Cup Final.

The first Grand National I can recall was the 1968 one, before which I had been invited to draw a horse in a sweepstake run by our neighbours.  This running was the Foinavon/pile-up shambles and, although I don’t remember watching it on TV, I do recall hearing later that my horse Vulcano had perished during the race.

I would subsequently make a point of catching the equestrian bun-fight each year, only really stopping doing so once I began attending football matches regularly on Saturday afternoons - with the consequence I can still name most of the National winners from the 1970s, but precious few since.

I ensured I arrived early enough at Aintree to participate in the walking-round-the-course thing.  To do this one had to access what is called the Steeplechase Enclosure (otherwise known as the cheap seats).  Here the folks (Scousers to a man/woman if accents are anything to go by) were already well into party mode.  They had an ice-cream van in there, plus a stage set-up for a rock band.  Neither of which we in the expensive-seats enjoyed.  What they did not have, I noted however, was any sort of a view of either the finish line, or indeed much of the course itself. 

I congratulated myself on shelling out for a bit of luxury and a decent view from the Lord Sefton stand, but was soon given a reality check on just how far down the food-chain I really am, as a fleet of helicopters began dropping off small groups of the well-heeled and well-scrubbed in a heli-pad in the centre of the track.

Wandering around the race route, I have to say the fences were actually considerably less impressive than I had thought they would be.  I had imagined standing dwarfed by towering piles of greenery but, whilst I certainly would not like to have attempted to jump ‘em (either on a horse or anything else), the sight was just a tad disillusioning. 

Even the legendary Becher's Brook looked no more intimidating than most of the others.  The actual height of the fence has, I believe, remained unaltered over the years.  Rather it is the depth of the drop on the landing side which has been amended to make it safer for the riders and their mounts.  The effectiveness of which was reflected by the fact the fence garnered no fallers this year, the first time such has thing had happened since 1996.

Looking back towards the Lord Sefton and Earl of Derby Stands

Ready to rock in the Steeplechase Enclosure

The only way to arrive

I saw someone who looked a bit like Meg Mathews get out of one of these choppers, but no-one really famous.

The toned down Becher's Brook

I went onto the hallowed turf to get this close-up shot before I was 
huckled off by some 14-year-old steward.

Becher's Brook showing the ditch

Fence number 3 & 19 - The Open Ditch

The Lord Sefton and Earl of Derby Stands - completed as recently as 2007

The finishing post

Arguably the best known National-winning jockey Bob Champion, who was
presenting inductees to the Aintree Hall of Fame with commenrative tankards. 

Some action from 1:45 race...............

...........won by Jamie Moore riding Ubak

Panorama of Aintree Raceourse, Liverpool

This happy chap is Paul Carberry, who has just won me £45 on Solwhit in the 2:50

This fine piece of horse-flesh was my choice to bring me untold wealth in the big race

I watched the horses being presented in the parade ring beforehand; paying particular attention to Colbert Station upon whose nose I had placed £8 of my hard-earned.  The jockeys then entered the fray from the Weighing Room, flanked by some decidedly youthful looking Welsh Guards.  But not half as young as some of the jockeys looked.  A few of those had not even started shaving yet, it seemed to me. 

 The horses and riders made their way to the starting point whereupon they all indulged in an odd swirling, spiralling dance for a few minutes before finally lining up facing the same direction.  

And then they were off ! – in a slightly casual manner it appeared, with some setting off at a fair old gallop with others seemingly content to canter to begin with.  They all swiftly hoofed-it up the course to begin kicking the immaculately groomed fences to pieces.  Then all the riders took a left turn, disappeared from view, and we all settled down to watch the business on the large screens. 

The re-designed fences appeared to be to the competitors’ liking as they all managed to negotiate the first half dozen or so, including scary Becher's Brook – the announcement of which achievement elicited a huge roar from the crowd.   There were sighs all around me each time the commentator relayed a mistake by the favourite Seabass (of which there appeared to be quite a few), but this was as nothing to the almost tangible groan as we learned Colbert Station had unseated jockey Tony McCoy at The Chair.  Clearly a lot more folks than just I had pinned their hopes on this one.

The horses eventually came back into view and completed the first circuit down below us, with Across The Bay leading the pack, before they turned to inflict more carnage on the partly-rebuilt fences in front of the Steeplechase Enclosure.  Welsh horse Teaforthree’s name came up frequently in the commentary as the horses swung into view for the final time, but it was only after the last fence that it became clear that 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore had somehow pulled clear of the field. 

And a clearly stunned Aintree watched in bemusement as the unknown galloped towards the finishing post leaving a number of more fancied (and heavily backed) runners in its wake.

My recollection of the final seconds of each National I had seen on TV was of a swelling mass of cheering & waving bodies urging the winner home.  But all was eerily quiet here.  The only sound was that of running liquid, as the assembled bookmakers wet themselves laughing at their good fortune.

Keen to see the presentations in the Winner’s Enclosure I arrived to see Claire Balding interviewing some old codger in a bunnet, whom I was surprised and rather pleased to learn was actually Harvey (Victory-V) Smith.  I naively assumed the rather attractive blonde Sue Smith standing nearby (who had trained the winner) was his daughter.  Silly boy, Ian.

Jockey Ryan Mania when he arrived was politely applauded but certainly not given the ovation I had expected, and indeed felt he deserved.  Perhaps he had not quite been forgiven for the fact his win had cost a lot of punters here a lot of money.  Even after the presentations he was left to battle his way to the Jockey Club office through a moving crowd, most of whom ignored him.  It all just seemed a touch tawdry.

None of the bets I placed on the race provided any return, but fortunately I had fluked a winner in an earlier race, so found myself still in the black for the races thus far.  I briefly contemplated placing one last bet on the next race, but decided No.  I chose instead to be one of the few people (apart from the bookmakers) to leave Aintree that afternoon having made a profit, albeit a modest one of £15. 

The National entrants are paraded prior to the race 

The Parade Ring and Horsewalk

Colbert Station once more - you can tell I was keeping a keen eye on him/her

Richard McLernon

Ruby Walsh

Nick Scholfield and Sam Twiston-Davies

Richard Johnson, Mark Grant and (I think) Henry Brooke

Adam Wedge and Ryan Mania (never heard of him!)

The 2013 Grand National jockeys

This was the pre-race jockeying for position dance

And they're off, as they say

Aintree Racecourse just after the stsrt of the 2013 National - the horses can just be
glimpsed galloping off towards the first fence in the top RHS of the pic

The runners approach the third fence having comprehensively destroyed the first two.
Note the chaps frantically rebuilding the fence before the second lap.

Back into view having disappeared over the horizon for a few minutes.

The leaders approach the Water Jump leaving Tony McCoy (and my hopes)
in a crumpled heap behind them

The horses clatter past the Lord Sefton stand at approx the half-way point.

The horses clatter past the Lord Sefton stand at approx the half-way point.

The horses clatter past the Lord Sefton stand at approx the half-way point.

Ryan Mahon decides Harry The Viking would benefit from a gentle whipping

Second time up past the Steeplechase Enclosure.  These two laps would be the only time
folks in that part of the ground would see any horses, as all the other races cut across the course. 

Back into view again - I thought Oscar Time in the orange looked the most likely winner at this point.

Across the last fence..............

................and suddenly Auroras Encore has the lead

Ryan Mania pulls away

The closing few metres, with my horse Colbert Station (regretfully sans jockey)
the only one close to Auroras Encore

Scot Ryan Mania wins the 2013 Grand National on Auroras Encore

The stunned (and perhaps slightly resentful) Aintree crowd

Ryan Mania is welcomed to the Winner's Enclosure

Auroras Encore getting a splash-down

The winning team

The Winner's Enclosure after the 2013 Grand National

Harvey & Claire

Ryan Mania

Ryan is left to batle through the throng to the Jocky Club.
Where are the Welsh Guards when you need them?


  1. A bloody superb set of photos Ian. How the hell do you manage to get so many different varied shots ? Do you have a press pass ? Are you really David Bailey ?
    Nice to see a race course too.

    1. No Press Pass and certainly no DB. I simply invested in my first ever decent camera last Xmas. Should have done it years ago.

  2. it's martin ferris in the photo with richard johnson and mark grant

    henry brooke is far right 3rd from the back in the photo with all the jockeys