Not long ago or far away, there was an Irish man who was very good at his job. He had a son who played the drums and cooked glorious food and had an adventurous spirit, according to all those who knew and loved him. And his son died. The Irish man must have wondered, as everyone who is faced with sudden, tearing tragedies wonders, whether being good at his job was enough any more. Perhaps he wondered what the point of it all was. I think I would have.
On Saturday, that man trained the winner of the Grand National.
Perhaps there was a point, after all.
Mouse Morris is a bit of a legend in racing. He doesn’t really go by the book. He doesn’t wear a smart Trilby like Willie Mullins and he famously smokes about forty fags a day and he’s always got a little glimmer of mischief in his eyes. He is known for his uncanny ability to get a horse right for the big day. And he did that on Saturday in spades.
The extraordinary thing is that he has not just suffered a crushing blow in the last year, with the loss of his beloved boy, but that Rule the World, the horse who stormed round the elbow as if Aintree was his spiritual home, has never won a steeplechase in his life. He’s been plagued with injury, he’s never run over anything like four and a quarter miles, he’s never set foot on the Aintree turf. I did all my homework, and I had to put a big cross next to his name. In the Racing Post, they do a thing where they put all the Grand National markers against each horse, and then do a tick or a cross. Distance, course form, all that kind of thing. Many Clouds, who did not run his race after all, had a tick in every single box. Rule the World had one.
He was ridden by a nineteen year old jockey called David Mullins, who had never seen the Grand National fences until he walked the course on Saturday morning. That’s another thing you look for, when you have your beady punting hat on – a jockey who knows these fences, who knows the elephant traps, who can plot a course and keep his or her horse out of trouble. This young man had not so much as clapped eyes on Aintree.
Everything on paper was wrong. Everything on the day came gloriously, wildly, madly right. The horse hunted round as if Aintree was everything he was waiting for, the young jockey rode a peach, the wily old trainer’s faith was rewarded. Even Michael O’Leary went from flinty businessman to emotional human when he wept on national television.
Mouse Morris could not speak, he was so overwhelmed. He managed to say, to Clare Balding: ‘I’ve got to give up the fags.’ Which is surely the best ever reaction to winning the world’s most famous race. A little later he said, of his son: ‘He was looking down on us.’
Rule the World won the Grand National at 33-1 and I did not have a penny on him and I was as happy as if I had hit the jackpot. That’s what this race is all about: the unlikely story, the heart-warming moment, the authentic emotion.
And the best result of all was that for the fourth year running, all the gallant equines went safely home to their yards.
Now it’s an ordinary week again, and I have work to do and I must put on my Captain Sensible hat and crack on.