MILLIONS of us will tune into ITV’s coverage of the Grand National on Saturday, irrespective of whether or not they’re horse-racing fans.
The four-mile, two-and-a-half-furlong steeplechase at Aintree is one of those iconic yearly events that grabs the consciousness of the Great British public.
A form student may have carefully selected Vieux Lion Rouge as the winner from this year’s 40-strong field.
One For Arthur will carry the hopes of many once-a-year punters with a husband, son or father with that name.
Definitly Red will have plenty of supporters amongst Liverpool FC fans (and those of the flame-haired persuasion).
And golf fans will look no further than Just A Par.
But whoever wins the 2017 race is unlikely to become so famous that it will have a fence on the course named after it, an honour bestowed upon the unlikely winner of the Grand National 50 years ago.
Even three times National hero Red Rum doesn’t have that accolade!
It was on April 8, 1967, that Foinavon became the biggest shock winner in the race’s 178-year history.
At odds of 100/1, the nine-year-old was considered to be merely making up the numbers on the day.
That was certainly the view of his owner, Cyril Watkins, and trainer, John Kempton, who weren’t even present to see him run.
Foinavon, ridden by John Buckingham, was indeed set to finish well down the field until the 23rd fence, when a loose horse veered into the leading pack, causing a melee in which horse after horse was effectively knocked out of the race.
Buckingham was far enough back to see the carnage ahead and deftly directed his mount around all the trouble, skipped over the fence and found himself 30 lengths clear with just six fences to go.
Foinavon was able to hang on to record a famous victory and run into sporting immortality.
In 1984, his achievement was marked when Aintree announced the seventh and 23rd fence — the horses jump the obstacles twice — would be named after the unforgettable 1967 winner.
Foinavon wasn’t the only 100/1 winner of the National — there have been four others, the most recent being Mon Mome eight years ago.
So if you’re handed an outsider in the office sweepstake that the resident racing “expert” dismisses, don’t give up hope — it is a race where every horse usually has some sort of chance even if these days, with softer fences and less runners than in years gone by, a repeat of the Foinavon year melee is unlikely.
In fact, the last five winners have come in at odds of 33/1, 66/1, 25/1, 25/1 and 33/1, so it’s recently been more of a race for the pinstickers rather than the avid form boffins.
A clear favourite has only won once this century — Hedgehunter in 2005 from the stable of leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh.
The first official winner of the race was the appropriately-named Lottery in 1839 and the most famous was, of course, Red Rum, whose record-breaking third win came 40 years ago and will no doubt be recalled fondly again in the build-up to the big race.
This year’s National gets underway at 5.15pm on ITV, who have taken over coverage of the sport from Channel 4.
Good luck if you’re having a little flutter.