Belfast Telegraph

It's child's play for antique Aspell's roadshow

By Billy Weir

Clare Balding was on more familiar ground, good to soft (good in places), at Aintree on Saturday afternoon, when she popped up in the stables at the start of Channel Four's Grand National coverage.

She was there to talk up the hopes of Walkon, who, right on cue, popped a big grey head out the stable door as Clare approached and commented how 'appropriate it would be if it was successful' given the link to Liverpool FC's anthem.

The horse nodded enthusiastically, moshing away like a teenager at a Metallica concert, totally upstaging Clare, which is not an easy thing to do.

For the record, it was pulled up two from home, so by my reckoning that means Brendan Rodgers' lot will bow out of the title race at Crystal Palace. It's certainly hope I hold in my heart (sits back and awaits torrent of abuse).

Back to the racing and Clare was joined by a plethora of pundits on the course and back in the studio where Nick Luck was our guide to what 'might win this year's John Smith's Grand National.' The only problem was it's now sponsored by Crabbie's.

Mistake rectified, the 'experts' then gave their tips for the race, 10 horses were named but not a mention of eventual winner, Pineau de Re. Indeed in three hours of build-up to the race it never raised a murmur.

Even among a veritable cornucopia of entertainment superstars such as Paddy McGuinness, Gemma Merna, Sir Cliff Richard and Cilla Black, so it was a real surprise, surprise, when it won. Apologies for that.

Rishi Persad, the intrepid on-course reporter, was at the start line for the off, or not, as we had our customary false start, and popped up on screen holding a horseshoe which he'd found on the turf. Thankfully, he didn't pick up the mound that was steaming just beside him.

Jockey Leighton Aspell had already provided the picture of the day when he joined his family for a group photo sitting on the Chair, and he was to go on to prove that winning the world's greatest steeplechase was child's play. Warning, more Michael Aspel-related puns are on their way.

"What a shock to so many people, of all the horses that were talked about in the run-up, Pineau de Re was one of those who snuck into this race," said Clare, desperately trying to save face, and that 'some shrewdies fancied him' but clearly they didn't move over from the BBC.

Back in the studio, resident expert Graham Cunningham was impressed by the jockey's win, a man who had retired, but now after a Melling Road show by the racing antique he bellowed 'Leighton Aspell – This Is Your Life'. Pity Graham didn't give us a clue earlier.

The winning horse is trained by a former GP called Richard Newland (pictured) and he was over the moon, as was Clare who got out her Big Girl's Book of Doctor-related Fun for the end of the show.

"The great Doctor joins us, doctor who they may have said before, Grand National winning doctor they say after," she said and he nodded as enthusiastically as Walkon.

"Most importantly 18 horses finished and all the other runners safely and that, as far as the future of the Grand National is concerned, is just what the doctor ordered," she concluded, and we all celebrated, some with the wine the winner is named after, some with champagne, some with Crabbie's but none for the out of luck Nick.

Belfast Telegraph

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