It’s not long to Grand National day, April 8, when what is arguably the most famous horse race in the world will be held, a race set to entice an estimated quarter of the adult population in the UK out to the bookies.
If I can’t go myself to place my bet I usually send Himself, who has absolutely no interest whatsoever in the sport.
A few years back when I was faced with a newly designed betting slip I had to ask a couple of elderly men in the place, who seemed very experienced in such matters, how to fill it in. And there followed one of the best half hour’s craic I’ve ever had. I didn’t win that day but I hoped the two men were more successful.
My interest in the Grand National was spawned in 1967 when as a young journalist on a training course, we agreed to hold a ballot on the event.
Miraculously I picked out the winner, Foinavon. Now, had I been at Aintree that day and betted on this Irish-bred horse I would have won a little fortune as he was one of the few 100/1 outsiders in the race, and if my memory serves me right virtually the only horse left at the finish.
Still, I had a handy £20 that day, a fortune to me at the time, money which kept me in food for a month. After that I rarely missed that annual trip to the bookies, with not much success, I have to confess. Still, it was always exciting watching the race on television.
One rider and six times Grand National winner missing this year will be Sir Anthony McCoy, was born not five miles from my childhood home in south Derry.
Recently I saw a television documentary on him, focused on the issue of his retirement.
A man of few words, anyone who asked him about retirement had to wait for a reply as the great jockey always found it a desperately difficult question to answer.
Even his wife, clearly heart scared of him suffering any more injuries, rarely got a straight answer. When he finally declared his retirement I thought she was going to cry with relief.
Tony was back in the news last week after supporting the French racing authority France Galop’s decision to give women riders a 2kg (4.5lb) allowance in most races.
In a William Hill blog he suggested the allowance should be introduced here.
Some female jockeys, says Tony, have regarded horse racing as chauvinistic.
Statistically, he wrote, women have found it difficult to compete for opportunities and “I want them to have more chances..”
But those aired views, it seems, ended with a few female jockeys not speaking to him for a while, and some still don’t, he confesses.
He hoped the change would mean French female jockeys earning a better living. He adds: “If I was female, I’d be riding in France by the morning.”
McCoy’s success all these years have earned him a glamorous lifestyle and, no doubt, great riches, entirely deserved.
Yet, one suspects, he would give it all up in the morning if he could just be a full-time jockey again.
That passion will never die. I understand that.
Sailors have that kind of passion for the sea.
I know. I’m married to one such who, in his 71st year, is planning his next sea voyage, with more on the agenda.
If someone as experienced as McCoy thinks women should accept the French decision then maybe they should listen to him. He doesn’t show any chauvinistic tendencies whatsoever.
Even top Irish female jockey Katie Walsh (sister of Ruby Walsh), agrees that in the sport men are generally physically stronger than females.
Come Grand National day I’ll be back in the bookies. I’m bound to be lucky this year.