The Aintree Grand National

Today marks the 167th staging of the Aintree Grand National which was first run officially in 1839.

The Grand National, which has such a long sporting history, is tightly woven into my personal life, mainly because my late mother’s family was steeped in horse-racing and she loved the lore associated with it all.

All Mother’s childhood diaries, as well as mine, note the winner of the Grand National, as well as the horse/s we backed, and the writing certainly shows the excitement if the two coincided.

Mother and I had a shared passion for the novels of Dick Francis and she often recalled the Grand National of 1956 which Dick Francis ‘didn’t win’ on Devon Loch who had a five and a half furlong lead with 40 yards to go but suddenly got startled and fell in the home straight.

For me, the most outstanding Grand National was the one which was run in 1981. It was the day my brother got married and just a few short months after the death of my precious boyfriend from cancer. It was one of those surreal days ~ and I can vividly remember 0ver-hearing Mother saying to some distant relations not to ask me when I would be tying the knot as it was such a sensitive subject.

The wedding came to a standstill while the Grand National was on and I was completely overwhelmed by the fairy tale ending when Bob Champion, who was a cancer survivor won on the great Aldaniti who had also been a very doubtful starter, due to injury.

Bob Champion and Aldaniti winning the Grand National, 1981
Bob Champion and Aldaniti winning the Grand National, 1981

Not so very long after that I remember identifying Bob Champion as the person I most admired in the whole world. I still admire his great feat and fighting spirit. However, I feel now that I was missing a bigger picture altogether: that people, like my boyfriend who die from cancer are not ‘losers’ or people who have somehow ‘given up.’ They can be as inspirational in the way they cope with their illness and death as those who survive.

It was on Grand National Day in 2004 that I saw with a whole new clarity that Mother’s health was in decline. I’d rung her to say I would be down in a little while to discuss our bets but when I got to the house she just wasn’t tuned in to the race that had never failed to concentrate her mind and cause her to take the phone of the hook, lest she be interrupted in the middle of it!

That’s ten years ago now and this may seem like a morbid post BUT be assured that I’m off to check out the runners and riders, yet again, to make my final decisions about ‘the backing.’ And, I give thanks that fairy tales can and do come true!




Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

8 thoughts on “The Aintree Grand National”

    1. Jan, thanks very much for writing. I’m sure that you’ll find the race on even YouTube in no time. It was brilliant, as always. Didn’t have the winner but was delighted that there was once again a fairy story involved with a jockey who had come out of retirement (and from Ireland) being in the winning saddle!

  1. Well that was not a morbid post more it was an inspirational one sprinkled liberally with real life. I have a great respect for horses beautiful and noble animal… just too big and jumpy for me. Most of the respect comes also from the fact that the Green Grocers’ horse Dolly , bit her!!
    I also find the Grand National too painful to watch as I do not like to see animals get hurt. This is not a critiscism I do not know enough about the subject but it looks painful to me.
    To end I have to say I did enjoy reading the post… I empathized when you said you knew immediately when your Mum began to fade away. xxxxx

    1. Willow, thanks for writing and I completely understand your feelings about horses and the Grand National. I have no doubt but that my interest in the whole subject comes from growing up in a horse mad family.
      I really appreciate your empathy about recognising that Mother was fading.

  2. Not a horse fan in the least but I remember being mesmerised as a child when the grey Nicolaus Silver beat all the black horses. And in 1967 when the hopeless Foinavon trotted up to where there was chaos at a fence, decided to hop over where there was a bit of space at the end and plodded home to win. Fairy tail. And one year, having backed Minnehoma, me and my two children on my knees jumped up and down in excitement so much we wrecked the armchair. The winnings paid for a new one though.

  3. I can picture the excitement and the bonding that must have gone on while taking those notes. It’s nice that an event like this helps to keep those memories alive.

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