That the Grand National is a contest which often favours the best story as much as the best horse may well be a chicken-or-egg theory for, with 40 runners and an owner, trainer and jockey for each, it would be long odds against some point of interest failing to emerge along with the victors. But when it comes to fine subjects for a fairy tale that could end with a glorious final chapter on Saturday, step forward Peter Nelson and your splendid horse According To Pete.
Nelson, 71, is a self-made businessman, which is not that unusual among the ranks of racehorse owners. And like another of the ilk, JP McManus, he is going to Liverpool with the hope in his heart of winning the world's most famous steeplechase with a horse he not only owns but bred himself. But there the comparisons stop and the contrasts begin.
One man has a global empire most recently valued at £481 million and more than 300 animals to carry his colours, the other an MOT business and a paper round in a Yorkshire village and a string of just two. Synchronised, McManus's chief National contender, emerged from a breeding herd numbering hundreds and grew up on a 400-acre estate in County Limerick. According To Pete is the product of his owner's sole broodmare and spent his formative years in a paddock behind a garage.
Nelson has already seen his pride and joy lead the way up the Aintree run-in. "Then I've woken up," he said, "and told myself not to be such a silly bugger. But then I once thought I'd never have even a car or a house of my own, let alone a racehorse. I'm from a family of seven and have had my arse kicked all my life. So maybe dreams can come true."
Though his livelihood came through modern horsepower, Nelson had always been aware of the original as he grew up in Helperby, between Thirsk and York. His father, who was a farm labourer, used to work with Shires and Cleveland Bays on a local estate where, as a boy, Peter himself used to have to take time off school in order to help with the hard physical graft of the harvest.
He later learned his mechanical trade with farm machinery before setting up his own business. Nelson's day now also includes a dawn start to supply and deliver newspapers locally, a service undertaken since the closure of the village shop. "I've worked all my life," he said, "and see no reason to stop yet."
According To Pete has something of the Yorkshire grit about him too; the National will be his 50th race, of which he has so far won 11. His dam, Magic Bloom, ran 53 times for nine successes and is still in that Helperby paddock at the age of 26.
Mother and son were and are trained at Norton by Malcolm Jefferson, at whose instigation came the mating with Accordion that produced According To Pete. When the time came for Magic Bloom to start her second career, the best at Newstead Cottage Stables was the talented hurdler Dato Star, an early indicator of the worth of the Irish stallion as a high-class jumps progenitor.
As According To Pete was growing up, it became apparent that he was a round peg in a round hole."He always had to be in front," said Nelson, "whether it was at feeding time or when he was playing with the other youngsters.
"And even as a yearling he could jump, he'd hike over a set of rails to another paddock rather than wait to be led round. He's not the biggest but he always had something about him, real spirit."
The dark bay gelding with his distinctive white blaze, already the winner of good races at Wetherby and Haydock this season, is very much part of the family for Nelson and his wife, Anne. And although along with their pride and pleasure in his taking part in Saturday's gruelling £975,000 contest comes concern, it is without mawkish sentimentality.
"What we want first is for him to come home safe," Nelson said, "and anything more would be a bonus. It is risky, but this is what he was bred for and is trained for and no horse becomes a great horse stood in his stable. Without racing he and the others wouldn't exist.
"And when you watch him bowling along, he's such a fine sight, seems to love doing it. He always has his ears pricked and you'd swear he has a smile on his face."
According To Pete, a first National ride for the 23-year-old Harry Haynes, provides plenty to appeal to the head as well as the heart, especially at 40-1.
There has not been a Yorkshire-based National winner since Merryman in 1960; it would be fitting were Nelson to deliver his own good news in the dales a week today.
The front four
1. According To Pete Tough, genuine, in form of his life, never fallen over fences.
2. Killyglen Was going very well last year when brought down four out.
3. Neptune Collonges Has a touch of class and stays well.
4. On His Own Eyecatchingly progressive after going to new stable.
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