Thursday, 18 August 2022

Hoping for Fairy-tale win in Grand National

THE Grand National is a part of the fabric of English life.

THE Grand National is a part of the fabric of English life.

The annual four miles, three furlongs and 110-yard race around Liverpool’s Aintree course is a truly national event.

Every family has a bet, offices run sweepstakes and the names of the famous winners are etched in the collective memory â?? Master Robert, Tipperary Tim, Golden Miller, Red Rum, Foinavon, Aldaniti.

The fences are known â?? The Chair, Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn.

Heavens, even the failures are remembered, as with Dick Francis’s debacle on the Queen Mother’s Devon Loch in 1956.

But tomorrow’s National is something elseâ?¦ we have a runner!

When I say “we” that is Sue and I and the rest of our syndicate.

But it’s “our” horse and it will be a day of intense excitement and  trepidation.

The reason for this is a nine-year-old bay gelding by the name of Gas Line Boy.

He has been part of our lives for four years now and has given us no end of enjoyment.

We bought him in Ireland where he had won a point-to-point and he has run 16 times for us, carrying our yellow and gold colours to wins at Wincanton, Exeter and Haydock Park.

We have had the joy of celebrating four successes, not least when he won in his first hurdle race at Wincanton.

His journey has even taken us to the Cheltenham Festival â?? but now for the big one.

There had always been talk about him being a possible “National horse” but then that is said of hundreds of horses and every year only a maximum of 40 can make it to the start.

A good win at Haydock last November put it very much on the cards.

Then two days after Christmas he ran in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow and was pulled up. We put it down to being “just one of those days”.

He went back to Haydock on Valentine’s Day and was a creditable fourth out of 12, racing over three miles and five furlongs.

Gas Line Boy will be, as they say, “fresh” when he lines up alongside another 39 horses at Aintree, all carrying the hopes and dreams of their jockeys, owners and trainers.

The bookies put his odds at 50/1 and, as usual, they are probably right.

Although two of the last six National winners were 100/1 and 66/1, certainly Gas Line Boy has no idea he is a long shot and this might, just might, be his day.

He is trained in the idyllic Somerset countryside by the hugely likeable Philip Hobbs who has twice had the runner-up in the National.

He is hoping to go one better this year, not with our horse but the highly-rated Balthazar King, who has odds of 12/1.

We would be delighted to see Gas Line Boy and Balthazar King battling it out over the last furlong.

Philip is not one to go overboard on a horse’s chances.

“He could run a good race” or “He might have a chance” are the nearest you will hear to confident predictions from this one-time jump jockey. It is also a first National for our planned jockey, the pleasant and talented James Best, who has ridden 87 winners so far in his career, which has been spent at the Hobbs’ yard.

He has ridden at Aintree five times before but not had a winner there. There is always a first time.

We run under the name of the Mick Fitzgerald Racing Club.

Irishman Mick is adviser, cheer-leader and voice of reason and good humour.

Given that the Crabbie’s Grand National has provided some of sport’s great stories over the years â?? Bob Champion’s win on Aldaniti in 1981 after his recovery from cancer even became a film â?? then Mick’s storyline would be a great one.

He rode Rough Quest to win the National in 1996.

Then in 2008 he was riding L’Ami and sustained spinal injuries when they fell at the second fence.

It was the end of Mick’s career and means he can no longer risk getting on a horse.

Twelve years earlier, Mick was so overwhelmed at winning the National that in his post-race BBC interview with Des Lynam he uttered the words: “After that, Des, even sex is an anticlimax!” His autobiography was even titled Better Than Sex.

He still enthuses about the race.

“I call the Grand National the big one because it is,” he says. “There is no bigger prize in jump racing.

“I have been lucky enough to win the great race and it is amazing that wherever I go now I am still introduced as ‘Grand National winnerâ?¦’.

“It is exciting to think that we have a runner in the race â?? even my kids are going up to cheer him on.

“Gas Line Boy is in very good form at home, according to James Best, who is our intended rider for the big race as Tom (O’Brien) and Richard (Johnson) are already committed to runners trained by Philip.”

So what about a glorious return to the winner’s enclosure with his syndicate... a fairytale perhaps, but what a story.

With just a day to go, fingers are crossed that nothing untoward like a cough or pulled muscle affects our lad.

We will be there, determined to enjoy the day and with tension mounting until the race at 4.15pm.

The Grand National is about dreams and just to have a runner is something that most owners never get the chance to enjoy.

The prize money for winning is £500,000 and there would be a hell of a party if Gas Line Boy won, but if he can get round the 30 fences and come home safe and sound we will be very happy and proud.

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