“The Grand National... Large dream for a little girl.”
Mrs Brown, National Velvet
At every primary school, there is that one ‘horse freak’ who spends their time ‘galloping’ around the playground, making clicking noises and neighing.
... That kid was me. 🤣
From the very first time I rode a horse at the age of six, I became utterly obsessed.
I wore jodhpurs to non-uniform day, and when my class had to a do a presentation on our heroes, I opted to nominate my fave pony while everyone else chose icons like David Beckham and Britney.
When I was eight, my Grandparents bought me the video of National Velvet. I fell in love with the film, and vowed that I would one day become the real-life Velvet Brown, taking the title as the first female to ever win the Grand National.
Happily, I lived and breathed this ambition throughout my childhood. It was all I ever wanted to do.
Another pony-mad friend from school offered to train my prospective horse, and I accepted. We had it all planned!
I’d spend hours writing fake newspapers, filling them with interviews between my Grand National winning self and Clare Balding. I even designed my winning silks and coloured them in elaborately.
An imaginatively named 'book' I wrote when I was 8, about me winning the Grand National 🤣 (Don't pretend you're not impressed with my fake barcode on the back. 😉 And also helpful that I have stated that the ‘illustrations’ were by me, just in case you might have thought they were Banksy… 🤣)
I remember someone at the farm asking me what I was going to call my future racehorse.
I recall staring at them, a look of pure contempt on my face.
“Billy, obviously,” I replied.
In my wonderfully naive ten-year-old mind, the prospect of me winning the Grand National on my overweight, 12.2hh Exmoor pony was entirely possible. Height issue aside, I clearly hadn’t taken into account the fact that Billy was painstakingly lazy, and was only ever seen breaking into a reluctant trot if he caught a whiff of nearby food!
But my dreams gave me the wings that flew me through a perfect, pony-filled childhood.
(I later decided that Billy’s National name would be Conti Ram, which was a not-so-catchy combination of two pubs in the village I grew up in. And this is why I back Class Conti every year!)
Aged eight... Absolutely pony mad!
For my younger, pony-crazed self, the Grand National was the best day of the whole year. I’d sit glued to the TV, feverishly immersing myself in every detail of the day. I’d lovingly recite the horse’s names as if they were mine. I’d turn the volume up and close my eyes as the crowds roared and I’d wish that one day it would all be for me.
Obviously, I didn’t win the Grand National. When I got to college, my Grand National aspirations were replaced by cringe-worthy desires to marry a footballer.
My childlike dreams slipped through my fake-tanned hands, but my adoration of horses remained.
While I relished in my ‘crazy’ late-teen years and all of the excitement that came with it, a part of me still felt most at home up at the farm. The stables were a place where I could blissfully drift out of reality. After all, horses had been the one constant in my life for over a decade, and I found a great comfort in this.
Although I never admitted it to anyone, I still felt my skin gloss with goosebumps on that iconic weekend in April every year. The magic never left me.
I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never felt love as powerful as the love I felt for the pony that came into my life while I was at college. When I look back on the years I spent with Bobby, I just see pure freedom.
During a time when teenage pressures were rife and I was muddling through life trying to find my way, he was the one thing that kept me grounded. He was my constant, my confidant and my best friend. His existence was quite simply a blessing.
And when we whipped through the woods, the endless fields an infinite pathway to possibility, he gently reminded me to be strong and dream big, wherever life took me, however far from horses that may be.
Aged 18... My very own Good Boy Bobby ❤
(Ignore the blonde highlights. I thought I looked like Mariah Carey... 🤦🏻♀️)
When Rachael Blackmore won the Grand National in 2021, I – like many others - was overcome with emotion.
Rachael Blackmore is so much more than a jockey; she is the inspiration of millions of girls around the world who spent their childhoods dreaming of rewriting history.
She is every single one of us, and in this, she has ignited so many wonderful memories in so many people.
She is ten year old me, cantering down the lane on my own two feet, using a twig as a ‘whip,’ almost convincing myself that I can hear the Aintree crowds cheering my name.
She is every determined little girl who has ever attended weekly riding lessons.
She is every one of our horse-induced tears shed, falls taken, and hearts broken.
She is all of us, as we fell in love with horses for the very first time and never looked back.
I always knew that I would end up at the Grand National one day, be it collecting my trophy from the Winner’s Enclosure, or simply just spectating. 😉
Yesterday – Saturday 9th April 2022 – I was finally able to tick this off my bucket list.
The day was all I had ever dreamed of, and then some.
The atmosphere was incredible. Everyone was just in such good spirits.
I had butterflies in my stomach as we walked down from the station. Rachel Blackmore’s story was being commentated on the big screens, and to my left, the stunning statue of Red Rum nobly watched over the ground.
In a beautiful heartbeat, I was transported back to my childhood. That old familiar magic engulfed me and I was once again graced by the feeling that anything could happen.
We all know that Aintree is where fairytales come into fruition!
Walking down to Aintree!
I can’t recommend a day out at the Grand National enough. I can’t think of one negative! The organisation was seamless.
Our seats were in the West Tip, which was under cover. We spent half of the races in our seats, and the other half at the fence next to the course, where the thunder of approaching hooves could be felt underfoot. I liked that we had the freedom to experience the action from a variety of perspectives. I especially enjoyed standing by the fence, up close to the horses.
(Obviously, I put a bet on Good Boy Bobby, in honour of my amazing old boy. I also bet on Class Conti, as is tradition, and Longhouse Poet, because I liked the name.)
View of the first race from our seats at the West Tip
All of the staff – from those checking bags, to the ones at the food stalls – were so friendly.
Queues for food, betting and toilets moved swiftly and we never waited longer than five minutes for anything.
It does get very busy at the end when everyone is piling out, but the crowd management is second to none.
We caught the train back to Moorfields in Liverpool (£4 for a return), which is ten minutes from Aintree. There were thousands of people at the station outside the course, but we were kept entertained by a live band belting out Five’s Keep On Movin’ which ensured the electric mood continued despite the rush for the trains.
The trains were every ten minutes, so waiting times were minimal despite the large number of people.
When you try to get a pic of the horses going past in the Grand National, and Death Duty photo bombs you 😁
To be in the hub of this world-famous event was so special to me.
The atmosphere glittered with the glory, emotion and elation that I had always envisioned.
The Grand National is far from just a horse race and an event in the gambling calendar.
The Grand National represents passion and ambition.
The Grand National evokes within us long-forgotten dreams.
The Grand National is iconic in both nostalgia and tradition.
The Grand National is a definitive link to our childhoods, to those enchanting spring Saturdays where the world held its breath in anticipation.
The Grand National is a story of fairytale quality that is so wondrously weaved into all our lives. ❤
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©