Here’s a prediction. Within yards of passing the finishing post in next year’s National the winning jockey will jump off and unsaddle like Jason Maguire did on Saturday, and like all Badminton riders do at the end of the cross county. Aintree should accept, encourage and adapt to it.
This has nothing to do with any reaction to the ongoing debate about this year’s fatalities about which I believe the authorities should take a sympathetic but robust point of view. It is not even about the unseasonably warm conditions which made dehydration such a factor. It is just best practice and plain common sense.
Like Aintree horses, Badminton contestants have galloped four miles and cleared massive fences. Like the now hugely improved Liverpool veterinary back up, Badminton is committed to doing everything to help the post effort recovery of its four legged contestants. After battling up racing’s longest run in, is best practice to take a horse still girthed and ridden on a long parade past the stands and back underneath them to the winners’ enclosure? Any more questions?
If you have any doubts on that last point have another look at AP McCoy and Don’t Push It after last year’s National. Understandably all the world’s attention was focused on the man, but have a look at the horse beneath. Don’t Push It was almost out on his feet and while his girths were eased and Jonjo O’Neill’s support team sloshed buckets of water over him, he still walked, or almost staggered along the massed ranks of fervently cheering spectators and through into the winners’ circle before he was finally unsaddled. What happened after he finished this year? McCoy was off in an instant.
He did it last year because the winners always have. It was the great tradition to come back between the police horses and into that little roofed pen which was the old unsaddling enclosure. “It’s just what we did,” said Bob Champion on Sunday night remembering his day of days on Aldaniti in 1981 and recovering from his magnificent parade before the Saturday’s Legend’s race. “But obviously it would be better for the horses if we dismounted.”
Crisp must have been the most heroically distressed Grand National loser of them all when Red Rum cut him down in 1973,but Richard Pitman remembers there being no question of not riding back to greet owner and trainer. “We have bitten the apple of knowledge now,” he says, “Of course it would mean having the presentation ceremonies in front of the stands but then that would be no bad thing.”
Indeed it wouldn’t. It would follow the path many great racecourses have followed to ensure all those gathered in the stands do not lose contact with the living theatre that has just been played out in front of them. In truth Aintree’s current arrangements work well enough for their other races but the Grand National closing ceremony wants to be played out on the largest stage available.
This will involve some acute logistical thinking but in chairman Lord Daresbury and Managing Director Julian Thick Aintree has a highly effective and particularly horse aware management team who have adapted round far trickier problems. For the winning horse and rider we should follow the system, used in America for many years, in which the rider dismounts and weighs in on portable scales in front of the stands and is then reunited with his partner for the photographs.
That of course is for flat racing when full rehydration is not normally an issue. But after the Grand National weighing in and interviews would give us plenty of water time before the photos. It would show we put horses first but it would also give a chance to give glory its due.