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The Weekly Blog

The Aintree Dream

Once experienced, no one ever forgets the Aintree Dream. I know because I had one of them a couple of years ago – I was riding a big black horse for the Cartmel-based trainer Jimmy Moffatt, on which I soared over all the fences and finished second in the World’s greatest steeplechase. The feeling of total exhilaration was like nothing else, until I realised that I was still wearing my pyjamas.

Dreaming about horses is supposed to signify strength, power and virility. On the other hand, dreaming about riding a dark horse suggests that the dreamer lacks integrity and intends to achieve success by underhand means. Dreaming of being beaten in a race suggests that the dreamer has set their goals unrealistically high, while the wearing of pyjamas (an irregular theme in my own dreams over the years) represents a fear of being exposed.

According to expert interpretation then, gathered from a quick trawl of the internet, my Aintree dream tells us something that you probably already knew: that the knowledge imparted within this brief weekly blog is mainly off-the-cuff fabrication, that my tips aren’t as good as I generally like to claim and, if you hadn’t realised these facts already, you’ll discover them soon enough when you back this week’s selection in the Grand National.

Most sensible people automatically discount the top-weight in the big race, but I’m not most people – so I’m definitely going to have a couple of quid on Minella Rocco, despite the fact that Jonjo O’Neill’s last winner came a distant 32 days ago. It’s also about time a female jockey made history, the most likely of whom could be Rachael Blackmore aboard Alpha Des Obeaux.

Fortunately, the secret to backing Grand National winners has nothing to do with form, statistics or real racing knowledge. It’s all about the name: Red Alligator, Red Rum, Red Marauder.

It’s therefore easy to see why supporters of Captain Redbeard are so confident. I confess that I have a slight worry that the Stuart Coltherd trained gelding has never won a race over a distance exceeding 3 miles – and that the word ‘red’ comes in the middle of his name instead of the beginning. Nevertheless, I’ll be supporting him because he’s trained in the Scottish Borders, as is Seeyouatmidnight who even visited Kelso Racecourse as part of his preparation.

Vieux Lion Rouge might have a chance on the basis that the French usually put their adjectives after the noun – which means that the positioning of ‘rouge’ at the end of his name is entirely appropriate. He also has plenty of experience over the Grand National obstacles.

My first visits to the Grand National meeting came as a student, when I always took a camera. As a keen photographer, I often carried a short step-ladder with me to the races. Not just because it helped with scaling the perimeter fence, but mainly because it provided a useful vantage point in crowded spaces. In 1991 I had a magnificent view of Golden Freeze leading the field as they streamed over Bechers, only for my camera to seize in the rain. The next day’s Sporting Life carried a front-page image taken from the other side of the track in which I could clearly be identified, standing head and shoulders above the crowd looking down at my camera, the only person not watching the horses.

Golden Freeze eventually finished sixteenth and you have to go all the way back to Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Golden Miller (1934) to find winners whose names were forged from precious metals. I took this as a negative for the Nicky Henderson trained Gold Present, which is just as well – as it turns out that he is a last-minute defector from the line-up.

I like a bit of alliteration in the names of my Grand National selections: Red Rum, Rhyme n Reason, Red Rum, Party Politics, Hedgehunter, Mon Mome and Red Rum have all hit the mark in previous years. This year Road to Riches, who crept into the race as a result of Gold Present’s absence, has the most alliterative name. He finished third in the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup, carries just 10st 4lbs and can be easily backed at 80/1. What’s not to like?

So the Tricast for Saturday’s race is as follows: Alpha des Obeaux to win, from Minella Rocco and Road to Riches. Vieux Lion Rouge will probably finish fourth. Unless of course I’m dreaming…


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