I didn't want a refund, I wanted my fortune

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I WOULD have won several hundred pounds on the Grand National. Not only would I have had the winner and the forecast (just missing out on the tricast), I would also have triumphed in the office sweepstake. Or so I managed to convince myself. And who can dispute it? If the champion jockey, Peter Scudamore, can say that he will for ever tell himself that this is the year he would have won, then so can I.

Peter O'Sullevan said on BBC Television after the 'race' that he did not know who to feel most sorry for, 'the riders, the connections of the horses or the reputation of the race'. By yesterday others had found a few more 'victims': the spectators, the Treasury, which had lost pounds 6m in betting tax and, heaven preserve us, the bookmakers.

No one, of course, has mentioned the punters. And when a BBC commentator obliquely referred to us while interviewing Bill Smith, the royal jockey turned racing expert, the latter waved his hand and said: 'Oh, that's inconsequential.'

Yep. Inconsequential to the tune of pounds 75m in betting slips for that one race. But, frankly, no punter will be in the least surprised. The racing world has always tried to pretend that betting is a minor and slightly sordid diversion from the main business of the day, which is watching beautiful animals parade in the paddock and admiring good horsemanship.

I remember how, when Channel 4 astutely brought on the entertaining showman-cum- ticktack John McCririck, to gesticulate his way through the odds and betting fluctuations before every race, his fellow commentator, Lord Oaksey, once bellowed in frustration: 'Who cares?'

The people who constitute the establishment of the sport still kid themselves that people watch horse racing merely to watch horses race; that race courses would still be crammed full even if there were not a bookmaker in sight; that viewers love the Grand National because it is a great and thrilling spectacle. True in part, but only in part. The Grand National is a great betting race. Those who say the punters didn't lose out on Saturday because they will get their money back show a total lack of insight into the betting man's mentality.

We're not in this game to get our money back, but to win fortunes. John Upson, the trainer of one of the National favourites, Zeta's Lad, struck an emotional chord when he said he had sweated blood, preparing a whole year for that one day. But he was not the only one who had spent months preparing.

I and a fellow punter started training for the National about three months ago, studying form, monitoring trials, meeting in furtive corners in pubs with the Sporting Life and Racing Post for regular updates. Our discussions led us to select a highly promising chaser, Latent Talent, being offered a month ago at 40-1. The first wager was struck, and pretty soon the first 'future winnings' were spent.

A couple of days before the race the price came in to 33-1 and then on the day of the race to 25-1. We knew we were on to a good thing. This was the time for the accumulators. Now, in no doubt that our nag would triumph, the name was strategically placed in numerous doubles and trebles.

Once the race was under way and it became clear it was going to be judged void, we listened in terror for a mention of our horse's name. It didn't come, and we quickly consulted the rules in the racing diary. The race would have to be run again, solely with those that hadn't started.

The BBC commentator said that there were nine such animals, and with our hearts pounding we waited for him to name them. Sure enough, Latent Talent was among them, and if the nine started as the rules prescribed, he would almost certainly start as second favourite. And we had him at 40-1.

So who really lost out on Saturday? The spectators? Hardly. There has rarely been such compulsive viewing as the drama of the race they couldn't stop. John White, the jockey who had the prize snatched from him? No. His name will be more famous than any other Grand National winning jockey. It will surface in quizzes 50 years from now, and he could yet find his way into the Guinness Book of Records.

The losers are we, the punters, nursing broken dreams, and having to explain to spouses that the cost of the new CD player or summer holiday would have been more than covered, if only they'd run the race.

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