You might think that the Grand National is about horses, jockeys and trainers and you'd be half-right, because they are the public manifestation of the great event. But they represent perhaps just 50 per cent of the entity,with the hidden part of theiceberg being the owners.
The iceberg image is apt for Michael Ryan, the Irish owner of Al Eile who wins the Aintree Hurdle for a third time, prompting wild celebrations and a song on the podium. Ryan, no relation to Ryanair (they'd charge him for three seats if he flew with them, as he's on the wide side) is the ebullient type of owner.
More often, they're quiet, racked with tension as their horses are saddled, trying to control armpits that have become showerheads and a mouth that has turned into a bucket of saw-dust. All the months of paying for their horses' keep, the trainers' fees, the vets' bills, the entry money, come down to a few minutes of furious action, which may reward their investment.
Yesterday an elite group of owners, who between them own 13 of the 40 2008 Grand National runners, have greater reason to be on edge. All are millionaires but know that money doesn't buy a win – indeed in the group comprising JP McManus (currency dealer), Graham Wylie (software), David Johnson (loans), John Halewood (drinks and spirits) and Trevor Hemmings (Blackpool amusement park and holiday camps) – only the last-named and Halewood have tasted sweet victory, with Hedgehunter in 2005 and Amberleigh House a year earlier.
The trainers and jockeys come out to soothe the most nervous people on the course. Jockeys can channel adrenalin into pre-race banter and then into their rides, trainers can curse and punch the air, but owners stand and suffer. The super-richMcManus tucks himself inside his dark overcoat, while the flat-capped Hemmings gives no clue that he probably arrived in his own helicopter. Graham Wylie is short and bouncy. Johnson looks relaxed and smiley but is anxious that all the horses should come back safely, while the Halewood drinks people couldn't look more sober.
At least McManus and Wylie have won a bit already, £34,206 and £71,262.50 respectively, for the wins of Pearl King and Tidal Bay. But this is the one that matters – and it's not about the £450,640 for first place, it's about personal joy and public prestige.
Once their horses have dispersed from the suffocating paddock, the owners scurry to vantage points, binoculars ready, an eye on the big screen for events in distant corners of the course. And then the horses are off!
All over the first but L'Ami (McManus) and Backbeat (Wylie) fall at the second. But there are 11 still running for the big- five owners. Kelami (Halewood) goes at the 11th fence, ending their day. But Butler's Cabin (McManus), Comply Or Die (Johnson) and Bewleys Berry (Wylie) are all going well near the front.
Out on to the second circuit and Butler's Cabin goes down at Becher's, while Bob Hall (also McManus) has been pulled up. Joaaci (Johnson) has fallen at the 20th. Out past the Canal Turn, McManus's one remaining chance, King Johns Castle, is tucked in and going well, while Comply Or Die is wide, steering clear of trouble. Bewleys Berry now jumps into the lead to get Wylie's internal circuitry fizzing. Cloudy Lane and Hedgehunter (both Hemmings) are still in contention, while hisred-capped Idle Talk plods on.
Into the straight, and Bewleys Berry leads – what a moment this is for Wylie, a newcomer among big owners, but then before the last fence the wind blows out of his gallant runner. Comply Or Die hits the front, King Johns Castle chases in vain, Cloudy Lane can give no more.
For David Johnson, who was distraught when Eudipe was killed in a past National, the joy is overwhelming as he runs to join hands with Timmy Murphy, a jockey redeemed from a pit of darkness. For McManus there is pride and frustration in equal measure as second place is secured. Bewleys Berry stays on for fifth, Cloudy Lane is sixth, while Hedgehunter is a gallant 13th and Idle Talk completes in 14th. Johnson, McManus, Wylie and Hemmings are all in the money, and their horses are safe. What else could any owner, rich or poor, want from the National?