Horse racing: 'Jammy git' defies the nearly man

Andrew Longmore sees Graham Bradley come agonisingly close to ending Aintree jinx
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The Independent Online
HAD he stopped three fences from home and asked for a map, Graham Bradley could not have advertised his National innocence more clearly. Only twice in 15 years has the garrulous Brad reached the finish at Aintree; mostly his taste of National glory has ended in a mouthful of Liverpool turf and a sore back.

His best effort was his first, seventh on Political Pop in 1983. Next best, 15th on Course Hunter six years later. Had he been a horse, he would have been sold off at Newton Abbot long ago. Fell, fell, fell, pulled up, unseated. Bradley has fallen at the first, 15th, 26th and most others in between and when the well-fancied Lo Stregone pulled up at roughly the same spot that Suny Bay and Earth Summit began their duel to the line yesterday, the word "jinx" was being whispered, not least in the recesses of the Yorkshireman's enigmatic mind.

For a few precious seconds yesterday, the story seemed set for a typically joyous ending. Surely the National would not deny Brad his final fling now? Suny Bay, runner-up last year, the class horse in the race and a grey to boot, against little Earth Summit, a confirmed mudlark. The pair had sluiced through the mud, disposed of all challengers and set sail for home. Plenty of time for a chinwag. "We're 30 lengths clear," Brad told Carl Llewellyn. "It's you and me."

The poker began. Bradley trying to kid Llewellyn that he had plenty to spare, Llewellyn knowing full well that the weight difference of 23lb would tell in the end. Earth Summit edged ahead, the gallant Suny Bay dug deep to stay in touch, but of all his Aintree memories, the sight of Llewellyn's rhythmic finish and the favourite's relentless gallop must rank among the most dispiriting.

"Going over the Melling Road, I thought I would win," Bradley said later. "All I could think of was conserving energy, but he outstayed me in the end. He ran a great race, but the weight beat us." His celebrations will be fulsome none the less.

So the National stayed in house, the property of Nigel Payne, the press officer of Aintree, who has spent much of the last 20 years ministering to the media, now on the business side of the microphone. Alongside him, the other members of the Summit Partnership, including Ricky George, once of Hereford United, whose other claim to fame was achieved on going similar to yesterday's Aintree bog. "All I can say is that against Newcastle, my team-mates did all the work and I just popped up and scored the winner," he said. " Today, I did nothing except shout 'Go on, my son'." Another tale to dine out on.

Shaking heads and furrowed brows were the order of the morning. The dark clouds hanging over Aintree were real this time; the unspoken danger was that the deep ground would claim horses less famous, but no less brave, than the incomparable One Man. The fears were proved uncomfortably accurate. Three horses died for our pleasure - Pashto, Do Rightly and Griffins Bar - as the official going turned heavy.

The message in the weighing-room beforehand was one of caution. No place for heroics, at least not on the first circuit. "They still went quite a good clip from the off," Llewellyn said. "But, after the water jump, we began to hack and by Becher's second time, there weren't many of us left."

In 1994, in similar going, only six of the 36 starters lasted to the finish; in 1980, four out of 30. Six survived to the finish yesterday, two fewer than the number of telephone hoaxes received by the police, all specific to the National, in the tense final countdown to the start. "The first came several hours before the National, the last a few minutes before," Paul Stephenson, assistant chief constable, said.

Had Mr Frisk been in his prime, the search for a punters' omen would have been over. Additional security staff were drafted in, following hour- long queues for entry on Friday, but warnings of congestion seemed to have been heeded and enough of the wartime spirit had survived the year.

No stone was left unturned, no pocket unpatted. Even the clown had his unicycle confiscated and checked. A call over the press room loudspeaker of "Please leave the room" proved to be nothing more unsettling than an advertisement for an account of last year's adventures.

In a sense, victory was won as soon as the tape snapped up and a spring ritual was renewed. Llewellyn will reflect on the vagaries of fortune. His own and Bradley's. For the second time, the popular Welshman has won the game's greatest prize as a substitute. First, on Party Politics in 1992, yesterday, in place of the hapless Tom Jenks. "Jammy git," he said to himself. Brad could not have put it better.