Sunday, 3 May 2009
The Grand National, What's Up Boys? & the Priest
"What's Up Boys?" - my cousin's racehorseYou will gather by now my writing style strives, whenever possible, to encourage audience participation. Whereas the size of my audience is not quite sufficient to fill the Albert Hall, venue for notable events like 'Last Night at the Proms' and 'Remembrance Sunday services' and the like, I am pleased to say there should be sufficient 'players' to allow a little scheme I have devised, as yet in its embryonic format in my mind - but crystallising nicely!
As a preview of forthcoming attractions I would warn you in about a week you are all going to participate in a horse race - you will run the race of your life - the biggest steeplechase event we have in Britain, namely The Grand National at Aintree, near Liverpool - run once a year. This is our 'biggy!' Everyone has a 'flutter' on it and the bookies usually make millions of pounds from our silly, stupid, misguided, impossible choice of horse, backed by people with no knowledge of horse racing, but still with remarkable gut feeling confidence, not just for a place win, but going for outright winners. Theirs, and my often stupid logic ranges from housewives liking the colour of the horse, or the horse's name because it sounds sweet, to greedy people picking horses with impossible odds like 1,000/1. Usually no thought is given to past form or even considering expert opinion. Lucky bookies I would say! - they usually make a killing from Joe Public. However, one year I did make a remarkable selection and picked all first three winning places, Highland Wedding, Steel Bridge and Rondetto.
No, it did not make me a fortune because I never actually placed the bets at the betting shop, since I arrived there after the race had started! Pity, because the odds on 'three doubles and a treble' would have made me a few bob! I think Steel Bridge was 50/1 and the others were pretty good as well.
Back to business. On my next post your blog site names will become the horses running this challenging gauntlet demanding courage, stamina, fitness and determination! Now hearken to these words! Listen! This is serious! I think you should start preparing for this demanding and gruelling task by having an early morning jog to get fit, plus heavy exercise in the gym - and watch your calorie intake - plenty of protein and just before the race lashes of carbohydrates for energy!
Before we consider this huge undertaking further, first a little digression!
Below is the video of the 2002 Grand National. I can hear you asking, "Why 2002?" Well, it was a notable event in our family history because my cousin RJ owned a famous racehorse, running in it - and doing very well in it!
RJ had sold his business and to keep him amused he bought a race horse, a grey called "What's Up Boys?" RJ had considerable success with his acquisition 'over the sticks'. It won a string of minor races, progressed to better things and won a good third place in the "Cheltenham Gold Cup". In 2001 "Whats Up Boys?" won a notable scalp "The Hennesy Gold Cup", which we saw on the 'telly', jumping up and down in excitement as it won. RJ was the last race horse owner to whom Elizabeth, the Queen Mother presented a cup. Further, by then he was a bit wobbly on his 'pins' and the Queen Mother offered him a lift back to the stands in her electric buggy - he declined her offer for some reason - I would have accepted it to have a chat to her, wouldn't you?
Having such a charismatic figure in the family, owning such a famous racehorse, had its advantages. Our local Irish priest, whom I have mentioned before (yes, the one who drank me under the table) was a betting man also, for his sins. When I told him my cousin owned this horse, which he knew and admired, I was promoted instantly straight to the summit of his social and spiritual hierarchical pyramid of 'important people', surpassing even the Bishop. There I was residing right up there alongside Cardinals, eclipsing a fair number of canonised Saints, just below in rank to his holiness the Pope himself! And I wasn't even a Catholic!
He asked me to let him know every time "What's Up Boys?" was running, for RJ would ring me prior to each occasion, advising whether to put my shirt on it or show cautious restraint. The Priest and I devised a sort of sign language. At the start of each Mass when the altar boys led the procession down the Aisle, followed by the Priest, he would turn round to me and mouth mime, "What's Up Boys?" I would nod or shake my head and by agreed semaphore language would advise the time it was running, and the risk assessment ranging from a thumbs up to a frown meaning, "Don't put the church collection on it!" By this time the procession had progressed without him so he had to run to catch up, making the excuse for this delay to make a sign of the cross over my head, followed by those immortal words, "Bless you my son!", so all could hear this special attention for the worst sinner in the entire congregation! My, it was embarrassing!
So, now to the horse race in 2002. The video lasts for about ten minutes and I do not expect you to flog through all that, unless you wish to. "What's Up Boys?" stayed at the back of the field for the first lap and gradually worked his way up the field. Two fences out he shot into the lead and we all expected him to win the race but was pipped at the post by another horse, Bindaree at 20/1 beating "What's Up Boys?" at 10/1 by 2 lengths. The next horse was 27 lengths back - he was the favourite "Blowing Wind" at 8/1. Needless to say we were besides ourselves with excitement and I earned lots of Brownie points with the Priest. I'll tell you a bit more about him next time. Next year they ran again but "What's Up Boys?" and "Bindaree" were both brought down early and out of the race.
Now study this video and learn the fences. They are getting on for 6ft tall. Have a good look at them before you jump! Learn the fence names "Beecher's Brook", "The Chair", "Canal Turn", "Valentines". Be prepared for two laps of the course and 30 fences to jump! Good Luck!