When I was eight, my parents announced that we were leaving the city and moving to a farm in the country. I assumed, as any eight year old girl would, that this meant I was getting a pony and was quite dismayed to discover this was not on the cards. I attempted to fill the pony-shaped void in my life with a steady stream of horsey books; The Saddle Club series, Black Beauty, The Black Stallion and Jill’s Gymkhana. Very occasionally the Sunday afternoon movie was horse related, and it was from National Velvet that I learnt of the Grand National horse race that I would experience some two decades later.
I had hoped that during my years in London the Grand National might replace the Melbourne Cup as my annual horse racing event, but this was not to be. The Grand National is run on a Saturday in April, not during the working week, and did not inspire any workplace celebrations. If I was to participate I’d need to remember my Uni days and do it myself.
I tracked down a Grand National sweepstakes kit online and scanned the jockey’s colours for my lucky symbol, the Maltese cross, without success. I read over the horses names but none jumped out at me. I then noticed that one of the jockeys shared my name – I had found my horse.
Now to place a bet, luckily a friend was making a trip to Ladbrokes and placed my bet for me. The race is run at a quarter past four and I happened to be visiting a friend who had the TV on, so glanced at the pre-race coverage whilst we chatted. I noticed that my horse was one of the few grey horses in the field which should make it easy to spot. A quarter past four approached but the horses continued to pace about.
“Did you want to watch the race?” my friend asked.
“Yeah sure, but it won’t start for a while, they aren’t even in the starting boxes yet”.
“You know the Grand National doesn’t have starting boxes,” mentioned my friend and we hurried inside just in time to see the horses spring into action.
The Grand National also differs from the Melbourne Cup in that it involves sixteen fences that the horses must jump. We watched with a mix of excitement and horror as foliage flew, horses fell and jockeys tumbled to the ground in the path of the thundering hooves of the horses behind them. I later read that the jockeys escaped serious injury but two horses had to be put down. My jockey managed to remain seated but I watched as my grey horse slipped further and further down the pack, finishing last. It was comforting to discover that the Grand National and Melbourne Cup did not differ in that both left me a little poorer, and with that my annual horse racing experience was complete.