The Real Grand National

 While looking for a horse-related photo for this Grand National article, I stumbled upon this image.

It made me smile.

I imagined how the Grand National would look if each and every thoroughbred wasn't ridden by a professional jockey but owners, trainers or someone who looked like they had just come out of the local boozer from down the road.

Yes, I've got a vivid imagination.

The world's greatest Steeplechase would be quite different from what we expect.

If we dip back into the past, 1972, Red Rum wouldn't have been given an exemplary ride by Brian Fletcher, you'd have seen Ginger McCain at the starting tape, 100/1. Thankfully, Red Rum won at odds of 9/1, and proved a legend winning the Grand National three times: 1972, 1973 & 1977.

McCain, known for his love of colourful language, would have been shouting: ''Hi Ho F****** Silver'' like no-ones business.

In truth, I don't think too many punters would be interested in betting if they saw Paul Nicholls booked to ride a leading fancy (with 10-stone overweight). The cliche: ''Weight stops trains'' would be trending on Twitter come the big day in April.

Those of a curios nature will be wondering what is that photo all about.

That's not the Grand National! It's taking place down a street in some foreign land. One of the riders has been on the sherbet and even leaning against the wall for balance. You're probably saying:

  • Why are the horses all grey?
  • Who are the riders?
  • Thinking about it, where was that photo taken?

The photo was taken in Camargue, France, a region located south of Arles, between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhone delta.

If you didn't know, Camargue is famous for pink flamingos, black bulls and white horses.

The white horses are indigenous to the Camargue area of southern France. In fact, for centuries they lived wild in this harsh environment of marshes and wetlands. Even today, these majestic horses are an endangered breed. Local cowboys ride them to herd black bulls which graze on fertile land.

I was mistaken for thinking the cowboys and girls were holidaymakers who had just finished a good session at the local pub and thought getting home on horseback was a legal alternative to using a car.

After tumultuous times, horse racing fans will be looking forward to this year's Grand National.

If you could detail your top 3 Grand National favourites (winners or losers) which would get on your list?

For me, they would have to go as follows:

1) Red Rum (1972, 1973 & 1977)

What a wonderful horse and three-times winner of the Grand National in the 70s.

This amazing horse defied logic.

He won a sprint race over 5f. Was ridden on the Flat by legendary jockey Lester Piggott. Not only that, he raced 100 times in his career and never fell.

I'm pretty sure Red Rum was born a unicorn, who ground down his magical horn to make three wishes.

2) West Tip (1986)

I loved this horse, trained by Michael Oliver and ridden by Richard Dunwoody.

You know why he won the Grand National?

He wasn't frightened of anything.

You may be thinking, how do you know this? Well, if you go back to 1982, on a very foggy morning, West Tip was involved in an accident with a lorry. It tore a huge hole in his hind quarter. This tough bay gelding needed 140 stitches. It was feared he would have to be put down, however, with the help of an expert vet, Peter Thorne, he made a full recovery.

In fact, he went on to win on debut in that same year at odds of 50/1, ridden by Peter Hobbs (see, those trainers can ride!).

As a horse taking on the Grand National, West Tip went to Aintree six times from 1985 - 1990. He fell on his first visit, but won by two-lengths on his second encounter to defy this stiff racecourse, returning 15/2 second-favourite.

He would finish fourth place in the two following years and a noble second in 1989 when beaten by Little Polveir, a twelve-year-old, who won by a dozen lengths.

West Tip finished tenth on his final attempt in the Grand National.

A real warrior of a horse. Much loved and remembered by horse racing fans.

3) Classified (1986)

This one is for my brother, and me, because Classified is a horse that if you remember him - you admired too.

The problem with a horse bred back in 1976 is that the results on the Racing Post are a bit patchy, only showing his last three races on the National Hunt (I guess the data has to stop at some point).

This son of So Blessed was owned and trained by Nicky Henderson and, if memory serves, ridden many times by Steve Smith Eccles.

Classified ran numerous times in the Grand National, his best performance when third behind West Tip in 1986.

This is the thing about horse racing and why so often it isn't all about winning.

This noble horse was a fantastic jumper of fences.

However, on one particular year when taking part in the National his saddle slipped! Smith Eccles went out the side door (no doubt grimly hanging in there because horse and jockey were made of steel).

This was bad enough. To my eye, Classified held every chance of winning.

There was even more disappointment to come!

The next day, the Racing Post popped through the letterbox. Reviewing the race comments for the Grand National my brother looked red in the face. He was spitting words.

Unbelievably, the race reader had detailed Classified ''UR''.

All who loved Classified read these words in horror. He didn't unseat his rider, fall, or disappoint.

My brother was seething.

He wasn't alone.

The next week reading the Racing Post Letters a delightful lady stood like Mike Tyson to take on the errant comment detailing Classified didn't unseat his rider and wouldn't ever fail at any fence.

How right she was.

It was pleasing to see that this gallant horse finished his racing career at Huntingdon on the 18th May 1989 with a win at odds of 5/1.

I don't mind saying if my brother, and lady who wrote into the Racing Post, or myself had been at Huntingdon that day, we'd have been wiping tears from our eyes.