Grand National: Samlee refreshes the Lion's share

A third-place finish is the toast of Aintree for a pub syndicate. Greg Wood reports
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IT WAS not much fun for the thousands of women dressed for Ascot in June when a fierce April shower drenched Aintree three hours before the Grand National, but for the nine very ordinary owners of Samlee, it felt like yet another omen that this could be their day. Out in the ring, the punters agreed, and every extra millimetre of rain shaved a point off the price of their horse, the one in the colours of the White Lion Partnership.

Their horse - bought for pounds 8,000, and now the second-favourite for the Grand National. No other sport could scoop up a group of regulars from a village pub and deposit them at its top table, and the enormity of their journey from the saloon bar of the White Lion in Bulkington, near Nuneaton, to the Owners and Trainers Pavilion at Aintree on National day was starting to sink in. Dave, Mick, Barry and the rest of the boys were in serious danger of meeting Des Lynam for the second time in a matter of hours.

That had been the first omen, at breakfast in their hotel, when Des just happened to be at the next table. "We've all joked about what we'd say afterwards," Mick Gore, one of the syndicate members said, "and when we saw him this morning, we said, 'see you later'."

There were other hopeful portents too, including a strong vote of confidence in Samlee from the Racing Post's star tipster, and another from John Francome on Channel 4's Morning Line. "That meant a lot," John Gore, Mick's brother, said. "Francome is my personal racing hero."

Yet for all the optimism and the syndicate's bar-room origins, the atmosphere was hardly riotous as race-time approached. "It's a bit muted," Mick Gore said. "We're all a bit quieter the nearer we get. We went out last night and had a few drinks, but now we're all quiet in anticipation of what may happen.

"We'll be in the pre-parade ring and the paddock, we'll milk it and appreciate every minute, because you could have 50 horses and not get anywhere near this. If he stays on his feet, I think he's nailed on for a place, but if he crosses the line in front, I'll be on the floor and they'll have to carry me to the winner's enclosure. I can't imagine what it would be like."

Conscious or not, there could be few better advertisements for syndicate ownership than Samlee. As well as Mick and John Gore, a factory worker and accountant respectively, the training bills are paid by a tiler, a bank clerk, a sheet-metal inspector and an office refurbisher, among others, while the White Lion's landlord, Dave Rose, also has a share.

Once they had milked their moment in the paddock, it was off to the roof of the County Stand for a distant view of 10 minutes on the track which Rob Shirley, another syndicate member, described as "murderous". And while their horse was never a threat to Earth Summit and Suny Bay, you would not have known it from the ecstasy as Samlee was led into the third-place enclosure, just yards from where the members of another syndicate were celebrating victory.

"This shows that you don't need to be anyone special," Shirley said. "You can get a few friends together and own a horse, and we all hope we'll be back next year." Back in Bulkington, meanwhile, "Dave's pub will be full of drunken people who backed us at 40s, 33s, 25-1. We'll be back about seven o'clock and that's when the party will really begin."

A call to the White Lion yesterday confirmed that it had, indeed, been quite a party. "We took more money than we do on New Year's Eve," Rose said. "It was a fantastic day being an owner in the Grand National, something that money just can't buy." And when the hangovers have subsided, the world will still be a slightly different place.

"I don't think things will ever get back to normal," Rose said, "not like they were."