Born in Liverpool, the Grand National has always been close to my heart and the fact that I have worked in the sport for the past 30 years makes that relationship even tighter.
As many of you know, ante-post betting is my port of call and although many consider it a dying art, to my eyes it still offers value for money if you can play the ‘book’ correctly.
However, betting ante-post on the great race and commentating on 13 editions for Radio City, Liverpool can be a stressful match-up!
None more so than in 2008 when I identified COMPLY OR DIE as the perfect type for the big race. His second in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock Park (when 75% fit) was just a starting point and once I found out the Eider Chase was to be his warm-up race I knew that the Aintree spectacular was to be the end aim.
Still available at 25/1 before he ran at Newcastle, not only did I have a series of big ante-post wagers on the David Pipe charge, but I also told all my radio colleagues and friends at Radio City to get on before his trial was run.
An eight length success at the Gosforth Park track off 139 was the perfect prep and better still because the weights had been published he accrued no penalty. Cut from 25/1 to a top price of 16/1 which I was dumbfounded by, I continued to wade in again and again and again.
The reason why his price held up was because his Haydock Park conqueror, Cloudy Lane, hailed from the McCain dynasty. The last named followed up his TW success off 132 with victories at Ayr and then the Grimthorpe at Doncaster off 152!
I thought that McCain had played his cards way too early whereas Pipe knew he needed to have seven to 10lbs in hand of the handicapper, to have a realistic chance of claiming the world’s greatest race and that was the difference.
Then, 48 hours before the race the gamble started apace and Comply or Die halved in price from 14/1 into 7/1 joint favoutite.
Some ride Timmy Murphy gave Comply Or Die at Aintree in the 2008 Grand National
— ODDSbible Racing (@ODDSbibleRacing) May 16, 2018
Always travelling well in the first half dozen, he literally never touched a twig and edging to the front at the second-last fence, defeat never crossed my mind. Of course I got hugely excited as he hit the elbow, but I managed to maintain some kind of decorum as he readily saw off three Irish raiders by four lengths and more in Kings Johns Castle, Snowy Morning and Slim Pickings.
It didn’t quite go to plan just 12 months previously though as Gordon Elliott famously landed the great race with his first runner in England, the sound-jumping Silver Birch, after finishing placed in the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival.
But in all the years I have been betting ante-post it was to be the race which would have yielded a life defining amount of money, had the race gone my way.
I went to Uttoxeter for the 2006 English Summer National having followed the then seven-year-old, MCKELVEY, in his novice season and had been waiting for him to be given a proper test of stamina and this was his first destiny with a lung-bursting trip.
As I expected, he hosed up under Tony McCoy and I managed to grab a word with trainer Peter Bowen after the race and asked him would all roads lead to Aintree 2007?
Peter had recognised me from winning my first Racing Post NAPS competition at an awards ceremony and replied: “Well you should know Paul, after all you are the champion tipster.” After which he winked at me and walked away. That was all the encouragement I needed to pile on for the best part of 10 months.
Every spare penny I had I invested each-way, from 50/1 that summer and then following a huge eye catching running on sixth of 21 behind Eurotrek in the Becher Chase. For some strange reason to me anyway, he was still on offer at 33/1.
I simply couldn’t understand it.
Bowen was shrewd after that run, protecting his handicap mark by running just the once in a staying handicap hurdle at Bangor which meant he went to post only 6lbs higher than for his Uttoxeter success and off a lovely racing weight of 10-6.
The problem with this stout staying youngster was that he had little or no tactical pace and as in the Becher he was at least 40L out the back at halfway.
? “To this day, I can still hear the commentator saying “And McKelvey is flying down the outside’ ”
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 3, 2020
I still couldn’t make out where he was in commentary crossing the Melling Road as Slim Pickings and Silver Birch took command and then from nowhere, I spotted his brown and green colours picking up strongly.
From being 12 lengths down at the last, Mckelvey pelted down the centre of the track eventually being beaten a fast diminishing three parts of a length. It was agonising and despite the fact I cleared a fair pile – I was well and truly gutted.
But what made the situation even worse was that Peter Bowen told me the next week the horse had gone lame turning for home, but just kept on giving and jockey Tom O’Brien reckoned they would have won otherwise.
For me the Grand National remains the ultimate ante-post race and greatest race to watch.
I already have my 2021 selection lined up!