There is an odd combination of British sporting institutions takingÂ centre stageÂ this weekend as horse racing and river rowingÂ come to the foreÂ for the one and only time this year. On Sunday afternoon the elitist showcaseÂ known asÂ TheÂ Boat Race takes place against the currant of the River Thames,Â withÂ a back drop of thousands crowded onÂ the riverbanks in west London. But Iâ€™m not going to dwell on that, because on Saturday, 230 miles north in Liverpool, the biggest steeplechase in the world will captivate a country like no other.
Iâ€™m talking about Britainâ€™s vague equivalent to the Kentucky Derby, the Grand National. Four and a half miles, 30 fences, 40 horses, and a prize pot of Â£1,000,000. The biggest, longest, richest, and most famous jumps race of them all. Saturday will mark the 167th running of the contestÂ where over Â£100 million is wagered, a large amount coming from those who wouldÂ otherwise never considering gambling on a horse race.
I amÂ one of those who would always considering gambling on racing, althoughÂ it took me some time to get to grips with the sport.Â In fact I completely ignoredÂ racing until 2009, but after spending an afternoon at a meeting in LondonÂ I was an instant convert. Since that sunny July day nearly five years ago Iâ€™ve been to 11 courses in Britain and two in the US, Iâ€™ve twiceÂ witnessed the best horse to ever compete destroy his opposition, and in 2012 I successfully picked out the winner of the Grand National for the first time. I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank Neptune Collanges for the lovely weekend in New York City, whilst reminding my picks for this year (Mountainous & Quito De La Roque) of their obligations come Saturday at 4.15 (11.15 Eastern).
By that point 18 races will already have come and gone as The National takes place towards the end of a three-day festival at Aintree. Hot on the heels of the biggest race festival in Britain, Marchâ€™s Cheltenham Festival,Â the NationalÂ Festival’s attendance figureÂ usually tops 150,000 punters, with over nine million watching on UK TV during Saturdayâ€™s racing alone. The worldwide viewing figures sit between 500-600 million.
Unfortunately for racing, once the final horse crosses the line and Channel 4 closes down the coverage for another weekend, racing drifts back into the niche sport category, although it’sÂ nowhere near as depressing as US racing’s drift into obscurityÂ following the Triple Crown. The jumping season finallyÂ gives way to the flat campaign, which includes the original Derby atÂ Epsom, Royal Ascot, andÂ Glorious Goodwood to name but a few. British racing is so much more than one Saturday in April, but as far as spectacles go, the National is hard to beat.