Chasing steeples

wall spire from wall lane
Wall from Wall Lane 2016

I first became aware of horse racing fifty years ago, when the Grand National steeplechase was beamed into our living room in grainy black and white (405 lines, the pixel had yet to be invented) from Aintree, Liverpool.  I gather grandfather Ted Brown liked a small bet.  Maybe that is something I have inherited.

The horse I selected, in blissful ignorance of such factors as weight, jockey, trainer, form and going, was Red Alligator, which to a small boy seemed the most appealing name.  As it turned out, most of those who attempted any kind of analytical approach to betting lost their money as 100-1 outsider Foinavon benefited from a melee at the (then unnamed) plain 23rd fence.

A number of jockeys remounted and, having ridden the wrong way to get a run up, set off in pursuit.  Chasing horses, including Red Alligator, kept on gaining, but Foinavon, in the end, hung on by 15 lengths to Honey End and Red Alligator third at 30/1, which would have been a nice each way result.

That race was run in very heavy going, and if Biblical rains were to arrive in the next few days it might be worth backing Tenor Nivernais, trained by Venetia Williams, whose previous success was the 100-1 Mon Mome in 2009.

My personal ante-post preference is for Wonderful Charm, trained by the great Paul Nicholls, and ridden by Katie Walsh, perhaps the first lady jockey to win (33-1 each way at time of writing).

There are those, of course, who think female jockeys are inferior to their male counterparts, and there is a proposal to give them a 4lb allowance.  Rest assured, Wonderful Charm will not lose because Katie is on board (she has previously finished third).

Originally, races were literally from steeple to steeple, jumping fences and hedges and ditches along the way.  I don’t know whether Wall was ever the start or finish of a steeplechase, but it would be no great surprise.

Auroras Encore
Auroras Encore leads over the last fence. Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

I have had some success over the years, but my last winner was a very juicy 66-1 as Auroras Encore triumphed for Sue Smith and Ryan Mania in 2013.

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