My Sporting Hero - A Horsey Hero
I have always been sport mad and as a youngster I look forward to casting my vote for the BBC Sports Personality of The Year. I loved the idea of the award but in 1977 I got seriously annoyed when I discovered that I couldn't vote for my sporting hero. This was because you were only allowed to vote for people. I wanted to vote for a horse.
The Grand National
I first became captivated by the Grand National when I was just seven years old. I was a keen rider but had never watched a horse race before. The atmosphere of the race, the enormity of the fences and the intensity of the contest had me hooked. Well that is what I always tell people but I think that my enthusiasm had more to do with the fact that I won some money.
The Novice Gambler
My mother had an unorthodox approach to parenting. In the build-up to the big race she had asked me if I would like to have a flutter. Ever the optimist, I looked at the runners and riders and announced that I would like to bet on a horse called Specify. I had no idea why. Mum said that I was a fool and that I should put my money on Black Secret. In the end I bet on both using my pocket money although obviously it was Mum who went to the bookies. She has explained the difference between an each way bet and a win bet. I opted for the former. Specify won that race and Black Secret was a close second! I thought I was rich.
A Winning Streak
The following year I won some money again, although only a small amount thanks to a third place finish from Black Secret. That was 1972. I was developing quite a relationship with the Grand National, one which was cemented by my regular rides on an ex racehorse which was now a resident at my riding stables. The staff had been teaching me about how race horses are trained and cared for. They had shown me the difference between the race horse feed and the feed that we used for the ponies and how intensively race horses were exercised. Whenever I rode the racehorse I could feel the power and athleticism and I was desperate to know what it would feel like to jump the Grand National Course.
The Miracle Bet
The day before the 1973 Grand National I spent some time examining the runners. I had heard that one of the horses in the race suffered from a foot condition which had looked set to end its career. A new trainer had spotted the animal and believed that his training regime would enable it to continue racing. This was because he trained his horses on Southport beach. The soft sand and sea water were therapeutic. This heart-warming story had me hooked and so I decided that I had to bet on that horse. His name was Red Rum.
There were a few horses that I fancied and so I ended up betting on several horses in the race which I watched at my aunt’s house. As the leaders approached the final furlong there were four horses in contention – Red Rum, Crisp, L'Escargot and Spanish Steps. I began to scream and yell. My aunt enquired as to which of the horses I had placed my money on and I said all of them! At 9 years of age I had picked the first four home in the national and found a sporting hero into the bargain.
The Record Breaker
Red Rum won the Grand National again in 1974. He was second in 1975 when the race was won by L'Escargot on whom I had placed an insightful bet! Red Rum again finished second in 1976. He was already the stuff of legend but would run again in 1977. The entire nation was willing him to win for the third time but this seemed unlikely. He was now an ageing horse and would have to get the better of the classy Andy Pandy.
I could hardly watch the race I was so tense. I wanted so badly for Red Rum to win that it was almost unbearable. As the runners approached the infamous Beechers Brook for the second time Andy Pandy was leading by a distance and looking comfortable. I was very worried. Then the commentator shouted "and Andy Pandy is down"! It was at that precise moment that I knew that I was watching history being made. Red Rum galloped home to victory unchallenged. He was the sports personality of that year and indeed any year.
Red Rum captured by imagination, enhanced by enthusiasm for riding and won me a lot of money. I regret that I never got to meet him and would have killed for the chance to work at his stables. I would have shovelled muck and man handled race horse feed for a month in exchange for a few minutes with that horse.