Horse racing: Novelty wearing a little thin

Sean Magee ponders the possibilities for punters in pursuit of National adventure
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The Independent Online
WHILE boring souls who simply had a win bet on the 7-1 Grand National favourite Earth Summit were scurrying down to the betting shop to collect, those who had indulged in novelty bets on the race were frantically scanning the small print of the result.

How old is Earth Summit? Is he trained by a lady? How many runners had finished? Most pressing of all, what had happened to the Deirdre Rachid Special?

Unearthing the winner of that four-and-a-half-mile slog around suburban Liverpool might seem enough to tax the powers of even the most clairvoyant, but many punters need something more exotic.

Hence the appeal of "special" bets, those prices about outcomes way beyond the straightforward matter of which horse's nose will be in front on the line.

Yesterday you could have bet on what age the National winner would be, the hot favourite in this category being a nine-year-old. Earth Summit is 10, an age group priced at 3-1.

You could have bet about whether the winner would be trained in Ireland (14-1), by a lady (11-1), or by Martin Pipe (11-1), or whether it would be ridden by an amateur (16-1). You could have bet on an individual horse to get round, or, less in the spirit of the event, not to.

A popular bet was on the number of finishers, and as the rain soaked into the Aintree turf, so the likely number of survivors tumbled. In the event just six completed, the same number as when the race was last run on heavy going in 1994. You could have got 4-1 about that yesterday morning.

You could have made a few quid on the side by taking 5-2 against the winner being blinkered. Earth Summit, peering gamely through his shades, defied those odds.

Bookmakers Coral added a couple of extra novelties. A "96 Revisited" bet priced Rough Quest at 100-1 to win by one and a quarter lengths, as he had done that year. He didn't oblige, but the "97 Revisited" wager - 8-1 Suny Bay to finish second again - did come off. Presumably good taste ruled out a "93 Revisited".

A popular proposition was group betting, where the punter takes a price against a group of named horses completing the course. With desperate conditions you'd have needed lottery-sized luck to collect on such a bet - and none of the groups advertised by the big firms included five of the six finishers. Clean sweep to the layers.

Time was when you could enjoy Grand National group betting on a Pick Your Own Basis, but that was rapidly dropped after the 1984 running when, with 33-1 offered for a group of your own choice, 23 of the 40 runners completed. Bookmakers' fingers were burned, and nowadays the bookie decides the group of horses, each group including a couple of no-hopers.

But group betting offers bookies a chance to let the imagination run riot. Yesterday morning a Backhouse shop in Wiltshire was displaying odds for various groups to complete. These included the French Connection - three horses with French sounding names - and that Deirdre Rachid special: 28-1 against Fabricator, Court Melody and Into The Red all getting round.

At least group betting accentuates the positive. A few years ago a perverse variation had the punter predicting that a group of runners would fail to complete, with visions of a horse swinging round the Elbow to cries of "Pull up, my son!"

In 1987 one such group containing dodgy jumper Maori Venture was a popular choice for the Eyore Fraternity, but the horse responded not just by completing the course but by winning. Serves them right for doubting him.

So what did happen to the Deirdre Rachid Special? Fabricator fell at the third, Court Melody at the sixth, and Into The Red pulled up barely on the second circuit.

Seems like there's no justice in the world.

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