As I write, the BBC are once again reporting on the result of the Grand National. ‘A glorious day’ apparently. Hot and sunny certainly, but glorious? Two horses died and most, including the winner, were so dehydrated and exhausted at the end of the race that they couldn’t even make an appearance in the winners enclosure. A recap of the race, explaining why two fences had to be avoided second time round, referred to the dead animals as ‘obstacles’. Twitter is filling up with comments showing various degrees of disgust at the BBC, which is accused of supporting the animal cruelty on display. Suddenly I feel a little sick.
An annual bet on the Grand National is something many people enjoy. For me it is a family tradition that I maintain pretty much by myself now, the children long having lost interest. I bet as a kind of homage to my late father, for whom the Grand National was something of an obsession. I clearly remember the anticipation that began in late March with the first publicity about the Oxford/Cambridge boat race. For some reason that was always the precursor to the Grand National, presumably because there were fewer ‘big’ events to draw us to Frank Bough and Grandstand. Dad would buy the Daily Express for the pullout; examine the runners and riders, their colours and the odds and make his decision based on a secret formula. He would encourage my Mum, my sister, brother and myself to make our own choices, collecting our betting slips filled out with our each-way bets, all between 20p and 50p. His slip would list about 10 horses, but the rest of us kept to one or two.
From the age of about eight I developed my ‘system’ – I would always choose a horse with a name that started ‘The’ something, regardless of odds (I still do). As a West Ham supporter I might also choose a jockey riding in claret and blue silks. As you can tell, I was something of an expert when it came to backing horses. They were usually out of the race after the third fence.
At about 5pm, just after the race had finished, Dad would drive us down to the betting shop where he would collect our ‘winnings’. To be honest, the only reason the bookies could ever have dreaded his entrance was because they had run out of small change.
So I married, had my own children and continued the tradition, even starting a little sweepstake so if the horse the children chose fell early their interest wouldn’t wane. But it wasn’t the same; could never be the same. Today, as I sat alone in the house – the rest of my family out doing something interesting in the sunshine – and placed my bet online I felt
the first stirrings of futility. I put money on two horses this year. An each way bet on The Midnight Club and BecauseIcouldn’tsee totalling the princely sum of £5 – it is after all ‘just for fun’. Neither was placed, and the sight of two beautiful horses, dead and laid out covered in tarpaulins made it a very gloomy affair for me this year.
So it is goodbye to a family tradition. I cannot keep it going any longer. If my Dad were alive then maybe I would cling to it for a little longer. But now it is time to let go.
And perhaps the BBC should too.