For the Grand National of 2012, I was at Victoria Falls. This was most enjoyable, not least because it allowed me to write an intro which I thought I was never going to use.
Obvious connections between racing and the awesome cascades were seemingly hard to find. But then came the realisation that the first European to see them bears almost the same name as a Galileo colt at Ballydoyle. And the feature itself could easily find its way into Jim McGrath’s National commentary.
Word about this year’s National soon reached us in Zambia via jungle telegraph, or the internet room at the Royal Livingstone Hotel to be more precise. And it was
Neptune Collonges had “bravely” taken the National – as most winners do – but two horses had perished. One of them was Synchronised, who was aiming to become only the second horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and National in the same year. It was what we call in the trade a public relations disaster.
People do not sit on the fence about the National, unless they are riding in the race itself that is. You either consider it a glorious expression of the sporting spirit, the ultimate commentary on the courage of man and beast in cohesion. Or you think it’s an abattoir.
This is the great problem of the Grand National. The twain shall never meet. In one corner you have the welfare groups, those who will not be happy until the Liverpool horses are jumping over rows of matchboxes with mattresses on the landing side.
In the other corner is the Ginger McCain Tendency. They would have barbed wire and flames on the top of each obstacle and drop-offs akin to jumping into the Grand Canyon (to also drop the name of another geographical masterpiece).
If the race is to survive as we know it, the latter group will have to continue to hold sway. For if the National became a great, long stampede without peril and one where we could promise almost all would survive we would have to call it something else. The Cesarewitch is my call, but I’m open to suggestions.
A personal feeling is that a United Nations resolution-type answer will be found. We’ll talk a lot about it and nibble at the edge of the dilemma while pretending profound and affirmative action is being taken. That should keep the masses happy. The games will continue.
We are not as long out of the colosseum as we like to believe. Most of us prefer to watch Mike Tyson fighting rather than Mike Tyson collecting stamps. Only the other day I was reminded of this when my offspring dragged me to the cinema to watch The Hunger Games, which, to paraphrase gently, was about gangs of children killing each other in a game with food as the first prize.
They’ll probably think Becher’s Brook is a little tame.
Locked out and lonely at Liverpool
As we have just been reminded, terrible things happen at the Grand National meeting.
Who can forget the year of 1999 and Bobbyjo when myself and other members of the press pack took rooms at the Devonshire Park Hotel?
After a professionals’ night of discussing form and probability we retired to our lodgings. With matters pressing, I woke in the night to go to the bathroom and opened my eyes only when the latch clicked.
But I was not in the bathroom. I was in an area they call the corridor. And I was not in pyjamas, rather my birthday suit.
I took the brave man’s route straight down the inner to reception, dodging quickly between plant pots to hide my embarrassment. My rather unsympathetic colleagues later asked if these had been bonsai.
There are few certainties at the National, but one guarantee was the look on the receptionist’s face as I strode boldly to the desk and asked for a replacement key.
I had been seriously amateurish in my behaviour, but Miss Reception did not make the same mistake. She kept steady eye contact throughout. I have not seen her again since.