Go Down to the Beaten, by Chris Pitt

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The Independent Culture

"Nobody likes a loser," sings American country artist Wild Bill Austin, which suggests he's never heard of the Grand National. Because while the winning horse and jockey are rightly fêted, the stories of the also-rans are often just as poignant, sometimes more so.

In a real labour of love that was 10 years in the writing, Chris Pitt has tracked down at least one of the jockeys who made up the numbers in every post-war Grand National, in each case recording their accounts first hand. From Bill Balfe's reminiscences of riding Elsich, probably the worst horse ever to compete in the National, in 1946, to AP McCoy's thoughts on his 14 failed attempts before finally triumphing last year on Don't Push It, this novel approach has yielded a rich fund of tales.

Here is George Milburn, second in 1956, using that unique viewpoint to offer a very plausible explanation for Devon Loch's mysterious spreadeagle with the race at his mercy.

Four years on, Stan Mellor recalls finishing eighth in the first Grand National televised by the BBC, and being told by a policeman who stopped him for speeding that night: "You know your trouble, son? You went too slow this afternoon and too fast tonight."

The 1980 race saw a brave attempt by the colourful amateur Brod Munro-Wilson, who said of his upright, all-arms-and-legs style: "I like to ride like a gentleman, not a monkey up a stick," and some years later was branded "a cad" by a judge for harassing a former fiancée.

And the so-near-and-yet-so-far experiences of George Slack and Chris Grant, second three times, and Wyndburgh, the only horse to achieve the same feat without ever winning, are given due recognition. Just the book with which to console yourself if your fancy falls at the first next Saturday.

Published by hardback by Racing Post, £20

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