Cornelius Lysaght

Cornelius Lysaght

There was no visit to the Grand National for me this time, but any sense of disappointment did not last very long.

Because following from afar the race of Red Rum and Ginger McCain, of Aldaniti and Bob Champion and of Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore perhaps demonstrates even more about this ‘people’s event’ than actually being there amongst the returning crowds.

It took me back decades to household sweepstakes, fancies with appropriate names and joining queues at high street betting shops, themselves open again after a pandemic-enforced absence.

Like 1978 for example when having a family friend called Lucius and a family cat named Sebastian made finding the one-two very achievable, and the dual forecast pay-out – £14.13 for our £1 – remains emblazoned on my mind.

As does the 1986 staging when the expense of my sister acquiring her first car that day was tempered by Young Driver’s second place behind West Tip at 66-1 paying the insurance premium.

But clearly that was all a long time ago now, and in 2022 after nearly thirty years reporting for the BBC from inside the Aintree bubble, I had fears that the diminished profile of horse racing combined with the numbers of its critics might equate to a shortage of the magic of my memory.

Until that is I saw the number of eve-of-Grand National front pages which juggled promotion of sweepstakes with variations on the theme of the Sun’s ‘Rishi: Lay Off My Missus’ headline about Mrs Sunak’s tax arrangements.

And chatting to non-racing friends lifted things further: one with two sons was supporting the (partly) eponymously-named Run Wild Fred and Top Ville Ben; others with a connection to US airline Delta had picked Delta Work; and at the local butcher’s the person on the till was of course on De Rasher Counter.

Ordinary people engaging with ordinary stories in order to take part in the simple pleasure of using a bit of a flutter to escape briefly from an all-too-real world.

BGC research suggests that as many as 13 million of us in the UK placed bets on the 174th Grand National, in the process creating millions of pounds in taxation receipts, funding for racing and income for the betting industry itself.

The regular chat I hear that just these kinds of innocent scenario could be adversely effected by possible changes to the Gambling Act seemed many miles away, but concerns continue as the white paper approaches.

While no one argues with offering assistance to vulnerable players, care should also be taken not to throw out any babies with any bathwater.

While in some years those queues at the bookies re-form quickly as a big tip goes in, Noble Yeats’ success will be filed under ‘enjoyable but widely unprofitable’ as he and the retiring amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen sprung a punter-busting 50-1 surprise.

Like the three previous winners, the seven-year-old was prepared in Ireland but he was rated too young and inexperienced to enter many calculations and although trained by a member of the prolific Mullins racing dynasty, it was by champion trainer Willie’s lesser-known nephew Emmet.

But we should really have homed in on the Corinthian Waley-Cohen – the first amateur to win since Marcus Armytage, now racing correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, on Mr Frisk in 1990 – who may do it for fun, but whose skills of horsemanship have ensured a notable record in the handful of races staged annually over Becher’s, the Canal Turn and the Chair etc, including second place on Oscar Time in the 2011 Grand National .

That this boss of a dentistry business – certainly not an actual dentist as one media outlet reported – was hanging up his saddle on such a high, riding a family-owned horse and with immediate thoughts for his deceased brother, Thomas, only added to the moment.

Because there is almost always a story, even a fairy story, and people just love being part of it. To the roll of honour containing Red Rum, Aldaniti, Rachael Blackmore and co, add the names of Sam Waley-Cohen and Noble Yeats.

I hope that you picked the right ones; if, like me, you did not there will be a whole new volume of stories on which to base bets on Saturday April 15 2023.

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