There is nothing new about the buying and selling of Randox Health Grand National runners on the eve of the race. The most recent winner to change hands a few days before the event was Party Politics in 1992, but this year, when 10 per cent of the field will be making their debut for a new owner, it seems more prevalent than ever.
Three horses have been snapped up in the past few weeks, and if you want a slice of the action on Saturday it is not too late; at 5.45pm on Thursday Just A Par, a 33-1 shot trained by Paul Nicholls, is Lot 1 of the Goffs Aintree Sale, which takes place in the paddock, within touching distance of the winners’ enclosure.
Early in March, Trevor Hemmings, a three-time National winning owner, had found himself without a runner in this year’s race after the sad demise of Many Clouds at Cheltenham in January.
Like a lot of people with the National in their blood, he would be miserable watching the race without an interest and, with the wherewithal to do it, he bought last year’s Scottish National winner, Vicente.
However, Vicente will probably have cost more than his three past winners put together. Hedgehunter was bought privately but cheaply, Ballabriggs cost 20,000gns as a yearling, while Many Clouds cost £6,000 as a foal.
It will, however, have been costly to get them to an age where they could win a National, and on the plus side Hemmings has not paid a single training fee for Vicente until this point.
With some luck in this department having bought Party Politics, Patricia Thompson bought Le Mercurey, also trained by Nicholls, a few weeks ago. Last week she doubled her chances of winning when she made an offer Simon and Julie Wilson could not refuse for the 11-year-old Highland Lodge. If he falls at the first he will look expensive – if he wins he will look a bargain. Who will step in for Just A Par tonight remains to be seen.
If you believe that the journey is better than the arrival then the longer term, more fun but not necessarily cheaper way of doing it would be to buy one of the other 27 lots from Thursday's sale, in the hope that one day it might be a National horse. Equally, if you believe Vieux Lion Rouge is nailed on you can buy his half-brother, who has been advertised in Racing Post this week.
The quandary facing any potential vendor of a Grand National entry is whether the amount you are being offered is enough to compensate for being merely a bystander a few days later should ‘your’ horse win the National and, now that it is worth £1 million, for the loss of prize-money. It is a real gamble. David Stoddart, the breeder and previous owner of Party Politics, sadly died last week.
The problem he had in 1992 was that he was being offered a fantastic amount – reputed to be £80,000, which was an awful lot of money for a jumper then – for a horse that had such a bad breathing problem it had already been tubed, the most extreme form of wind operation.
A National Hunt man through and through, had Stoddart known the horse would win and come back three years later to finish second he certainly would not have parted with him.
From my first National ride in 1987 I have a photograph of myself jumping The Chair at the back of field upsides Colin Brown, who is doing a forward roll off a horse called Little Polvier.
With a record of finishing ninth and unseating twice he did not look a bright National prospect, but was bought six weeks before the 1989 race by Edward Harvey as a suitable safe old plodder for his son David to ride in the Grand Military Gold Cup.
He finished fourth in that but, five weeks later, skipped around Aintree to beat West Tip by seven lengths. As ever purchasing Saturday’s winner is likely to owe as much to luck as judgment.