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.
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!