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The Grand National

Posted by THEPOGG on Apr 15, 2019

This Saturday, the 6th of April, sees the return of the Grand National, the UK’s most popular and prestigious horse race.

At quarter past 5 GMT 40 horses will line up in preparation for the longest National Hunt Race in the UK. Over 4 miles, comprising two laps, each lap consisting of 16 jumps, each jump over 5 feet tall, some of which are preceded by ditches that span 6ft, the number of horses to cross the finish line is unlikely to be a 3rd of those who cross the starting line.

If you’ve ever taken part in a Tough Mudder then you’ll still have no idea what these horses have to go through to make their way over that gargantuan course. No one dies crawling under a tarpaulin in a few inches of mud, yet since its inaugural race 180 years ago 82 horses have died attempting to finish the gruelling steeplechase. This is as tough, as dangerous and as enthralling as horse racing can get.

The Grand National is a British sporting institution. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone not taking an interest in Saturday’s race. Whether it is your seasoned horse racing enthusiast: someone who checks form, the jockey’s experience, the firmness of the ground, even the horse’s temperament in the paddock; or a family all chucking 50p in one bag and drawing a lot out of the other; the national interest will be as varied as it is widespread.

Like Christmas, Easter or Halloween, the Grand National is rooted in the British consciousness as something that we all do. It is what happens at the start of April, signalling the end of winter (sometimes), standing on tiptoes, peering over the jumps, waving to a summer just a few furlongs down the line.

And we have been doing this for a very long time. It is hard to think of any sporting event that has its roots planted over 100 years ago, never mind one that is 180 years old. Back then there were stone walls and ploughed fields for the poor horses to traverse, proving that life was tougher for man and beast back in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1839 Queen Victoria had only been the in power for 2 years; the trainline between London and Birmingham had just opened; British slavery had been abolished for less than 12 months and the first batches of Indian tea were making their way back to the Empire’s capital for the first time. That’s right, the Grand National existed in the UK before cups of tea did!

If all that isn’t old enough for you some argue that the event actually began 3 years earlier under the yet to be revised name: The “Grand Liverpool Steeplechase”. In fact, it was during the 1886 inaugural race that one of the Grand National’s most famous jumps earned its name. Becher’s Brook is named such because Captain Martin Becher fell there from his horse and took shelter in the brook for the remainder of the race. Becher is quoted in the manner of Captain Flash Heart lamenting that he did not know how “dreadful water tastes without whisky in it.”

However, if we take the starting date as 1839 then the first winner was called Lottery, the jockey was Jem Mason and the trainer was George Dockeray, who would go on to train a further 3 winners over the course of his career, making him one of only two trainers to earn the accolade on 4 separate occasions.

The numbers don’t end there. Over the course of 180 years I’m sure you can imagine that there is an almost endless list of statistics, percentages, firsts and mosts. Narrowing those down into a stockpile of optimum interest and maximum dweebery is a naturally subjective endeavour, that is unlikely to please everyone. Yet, no matter the list there is one set of facts, one specific stable of numbers that will appear in each and every article you read about this particular strand of 180 years.

Red Rum

Even if you don’t know anything about horses or horse racing, I bet you still know the name Red Rum? You might know he was a horse and that he did rather well, but if you didn’t grow up during his period of Grand National domination you might not know what all the fuss has been about.

134 years since its conception, spectators of the Grand National witnessed what many came to regard as the greatest race in its history. Winning by 3 quarters of a length, Red Rum, ridden by Brian Fletcher, made up more than 15 lengths after the final hurdle to record, what was up to then, the quickest time in Grand National history.

Red Rum should not have won that race. He was simply too far behind. Go back and watch the last 3 minutes of it and see for yourself, see the distance that he covered in those final furlongs. Crisp, like Foreman a year later in Zaire started the strongest, only to find his legs wobbling beneath him in the final moments, his opponent baring down on him with ruthless and perfectly timed efficiency.

Crisp’s Jockey, Richard Pittman best sums the moment up, recalling:

“I still dream about that race, of Crisp running so strongly and jumping so fearlessly, and then the sound of Red Rum’s hooves as he got closer and closer at the end.” He added: “I felt as though I was tied to a railway line with an express train thundering up and being unable to jump out of the way.”

In the end, the two horses, one trained in Australia and one trained in Ireland, a distance as large as any to be found on earth, could only be separated by a spilt second. Either horse would have broken the 39-year-old track record by an almost whopping 19 seconds, and if the race had taken place on the modern course, a full quarter of a mile shorter, Crisp would have had the legs to hold off Red Rum and deny him his place in history.

Red Rum would go on to win in 1974, come second in 1975 and 1976, before taking the top stop again in 1977. No other horse can claim to have won the race three times. Only 3 other horses have won the race more than once and no horse other than Red Rum can claim to have won the race twice since the Second World War.

No other horse has defined an era of British and Irish racing quite like Red Rum, and that is why you can pick out all the numbers from all the other races that you like, no others can stack up alongside the brilliance of the three times champion, a sporting achievement that looks as unlikely to be surpassed as human running the hundred meters in less than 9.58 seconds.

This Year’s Grand National

This year’s favourite at 4/1 is last year’s winner, Tiger Roll. Looking to become the first horse since Red Rum to win a second straight Grand National, Tiger Roll comes into the race in red hot form, winning the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle in February and recording successive victories at Cheltenham in the cross-country chase. If betting patterns continue in their current vain then it is likely that Tiger could become the shortest priced Grand National favourite in 10 years.

Next in line at 11/1 is Rathvinden. Trained by Irishman Willie Mullin, Rathvinden could be his first win since 2005 when Hedgehunter thundered to victory. Last year saw Mullin’s Pleasant Company come second to Tiger Roll, meaning that the experienced trainer will be keen to make sure that history does not repeat itself. Rathvinden comes into the race having won the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year before finishing fourth in the Grade One Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.

Currently priced at 12/1, Vintage Clouds will enter the paddock having experienced a year of relative turbulence having finished third in the Scottish Grand National but failing to finish at the Welsh National, his last race before the Grand National. Trainer Sue Smith is no stranger to the race, having trained the winner of the 2013 Grand National, Auroras Encore.

Just to be clear, all the odds we have provided were taken from the William Hill website on the 3rd of April. It is likely that those odds will change more than once before the race on the 6th of April and none of the information that we have provided on the race should be taken as any sort of betting advice.

Slots

Along with our betting advice disclaimer I need to make one about horse racing slots games. The facts of the matter are quite simple: there are only 3 decent horse racing games available for you to play today. There are 5 or 6 that have ever existed but there are only 3 that can be played today, meaning that if we want to scrape a list of the 5 best horse racing games together we need another 2 quality games released today. As that seems completely unlikely we are going to branch out ever so slightly into our top 5 games about horses, with a heavy slant placed on horse racing.

Whilst our list might not be up to our usual standards there is one game on the list that is as good as any I have played in the last 12 months. All this means is that we’re going for quality and not quantity and I will purposely leave that outstanding game at the very end of this list.

Frankie Dettori’s Magic 7

Frankie Dettori’s Magic 7 was released quite a few years ago now by Playtech but is still the 2nd or 3rd best horse racing slots game that you can play today. The game is based around Frankie Dettori’s famous 1996 rout at Ascot, where he won all 7 races on the card that day. It is a feat that has never been repeated and is unlikely to be any time soon. The game tries its best to use the number 7 within its features, offering a x7 multiplier within a bonus game. There are two bonus games on offer and each one gives you something fun and engaging to sink your teeth into. We gave it an 8 out of 10 back then, and whilst it might has lost some of its looks it still holds up as a piece of excellent entertainment.

Play the game here for free

Divine Fortune

OK. I agree. Not a horseracing game. If it was it would be very unfair on all the other horses. Pegasus is surely the best horse ever, isn’t he? Even better than Red Rum or Secretariat or anything out of Last of the Mohicans. And the game itself is outstanding. It was released by Net Entertainment in 2018 and it ticks all of our boxes. It looks fantastic, the features are entertaining an immersive and the house edge is offering excellent value for money. This game soars hoof and wings above most of the competition. A game definitely worth checking out.

Play the game here for free

Bookie of Odds

This game is hot of the press. Our newest game by a matter of weeks is also our only entry from Microgaming. This is a bright and colourful game offering the sort of features you will expect from a slots game and it provides decent value for money. All of this makes Bookie of Odds a very solid game and without a shadow of a doubt, the second best horseracing themed slots game to be released in 2019.

Play the game here for free

Mustang Gold

Mustang Gold is, strictly speaking, a take on what is essentially the genesis for the Kentucky Derby and all other American horse racing. As wild mustangs roam free in the American wild, waiting to be tamed, suited and booted for the purposes of horse racing. That makes this a horse racing game just like all the others on this list. As slots games go this one of the best I’ve seen from Pragmatic Play in quite some time. The colours are turned up to maximum vividness and the symbols are rich and detailed. There are plenty of features to keep you busy and the house edge is reasonable. We gave it 9 out of 10 because we know you’ll love it.

Play the game here for free

Scudamore’s Super Stakes

This is it guys. If you don’t play any other horse racing game it doesn’t really matter. If you don’t think that Mustang Gold or Divine Fortune really are horse racing games then it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that you play this game. One of the best releases of the year so far and by a length, the best horse racing game that you can play, Net Entertainment have pulled out all the stops with this one. It looks incredible and has some of the best bonus features you’ll see in any game. Not only is there a horse race, but you also get to bet on the outcome of your own spins. This is a clever, innovative game that has that little bit of magic needed to gain the full 10 out of 10.

Play the game here for free

Conclusions

As I’ve already said, there really aren’t too many horse racing games out there for you to play. These are the best that I can find and Scudamore’s Super Stakes is the best of that particular lot. Horse racing may be synonymous with gambling but it is a long way off of running hand in hand with slots games.

Unlike Ancient Egypt it is hard work to turn horse racing into something more exciting, more vivid than the reality it depicts and because of this most software developers won’t see the point. Essentially, if it is horse racing you want, why play a slots game?

If you are planning on a flutter on Saturday then have a great day and please remember to gamble responsibly.

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