The big day approaches, and unusually for me I don’t have an ante-post position in the National. In my younger days I was crazily obsessive about the race – it got to the point where I was so tense beforehand that I could barely watch it. A couple of times I can remember watching the race on TV peering through the door from another room – both times I backed the winner. In 1985 I had the (then) biggest bet of my life on Mr Snugfit, and embarrassingly I cried when he was run out of it on the run in. In between 1987 and 1992 I backed the winner 5 times, missing out only on Little Polveir. My bets got bigger as the years went on – when Party Politics won in 1992 I won enough to buy into a racehorse. When he won a couple of months later (alongside two others that the trainer ran at the same meeting) I made enough to give up work and go gambling full time. The National changed my life.
My best analytical performance was in 1998. I had quite a following by this time having picked and tipped the winner so many times before – I turned up at a dinner a week before the race and was asked for my take. I set the scene. There were two horses, I said, that would lead from the front and would cut out a pace that nothing else in the race could live with. Keeping each other company they would forge on from the rest of the field, and halfway through the final circuit they would be clear. Coming to the last the brown horse with the white face, Earth Summit, would go on from the grey, Suny Bay – you could forget the rest. I went on holiday a couple of days later and I didn’t watch the race – I did the forecast, but both horses were backed in and it didn’t pay what it might have done. When I got back I spoke to one of the girls from the dinner – my analysis had been good she told me, but they didn’t go clear nearly as early as I’d suggested they would. I said I’d try harder next time.
That all sounded a bit immodest, and actually I haven’t picked the winner since then. This year I’ve spent very little time on the race. My bet is Backbeat, who I’ve just backed at 130 on Betfair. He reminds me of Last Suspect who won in 1985 – a lightly raced 11 year old coming in on a low weight having had a fairly light season. He also looks like a National horse – plugs on at the one pace with a slightly laboured action. Has been a sketchy jumper in the past, but was fairly foot perfect last time he ran in a chase. Possibly on a very nice mark.
By the time the race comes around I’m hoping I’ll be well in the money, courtesy of Mon Michel in the first. There are more decent handicaps in him, and I’m hoping this will be one of them – he’s well and I think he’ll like the track. He was disappointing at Cheltenham – I was expecting him to go close – but perhaps the ground was a little too soft for him. The ground looks good today – maybe we’ll get lucky.
There isn’t much that I like on the rest of the card. In the hurdle Osana and Al Eile both look ripe for it – I prefer the latter who is virtually a course specialist. At Chepstow in the 3:25 I like Pontiff who returns after a two year absence – the time to get these injury return horses is often first time up when they are generally well but often unbacked as connections are a bit nervy and it’s kid gloves. Pontiff has won before first time of asking.