A Singular Sporting Drama

Photo Credit: Paolo Camera

It doesn’t matter how much of a drama fan you are, there are some sporting events on TV that you simply can’t ignore. The World Cup, The Super Bowl and The Olympics are to name just three. They are the sort of great, big schedule-busting spectaculars that sweep everything else before them and make a mockery of the ratings and advertising revenues. Whether you’re a sports jock or someone who just considers ball games mundane, these are the sort of events that there really is no getting away from.

But there are also sporting gems that are worth going out of your way to witness. They don’t necessarily make a great impact on the public consciousness and they may not necessarily even be American, but every once in a while something takes place that manages to capture the imagination in a way that is every bit as gripping as the most riveting drama.

The example that jumps out of the schedule ahead is the Great British  Aintree Grand National horse race. In the UK it is more than just a sporting event, it is a national institution in its own right. Every household up and down the land will tune in to watch the drama unfold. It is – year after year – one of the most watched TV spectacles.

Of course the British, including the Royal Family, are incredibly sentimental when it comes to animals in general, and horses in particular. For all the human drama – and there is no shortage of that – it is the equine competitors who are the real heroes and heroines of an event that attracts worldwide television audiences of more than a billion viewers which is famously dangerous.

Over the  175 years since the great race was inaugurated, it has seen numerous accidents and even fatalities. These have been human as well as equine. For many years the race was notorious not only for its energy sapping length – four-and-a-half gruelling miles – but also for the size and difficulty posed by its 30 enormous fences. In fact, some of those obstacles have become famous in their own right. Names like Becher’s Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn are immediately recognizable throughout the length and breadth of the UK.

The National – as it is known – is the most valuable race in Europe. Its difficulties are also added to by the enormous fields that it attracts. With so many runners and riders desperately scrambling their way around what is one of the most testing courses in the whole of horse racing, accidents are inevitable. In recent years steps have been taken to  reduce the danger that is inherent in the race. The fences have been reduced in size, but this has had the unforeseen impact of encouraging the competitors to take them at greater speed. This has therefore counteracted the attempts to make the event less dangerous.

Photo Credit: Paolo Camera

The knowledge that every one of those giant fences may prove fatal for each of the competitors adds a compelling anxiety to the race. Followers are not merely concerned for their own selection’s winning prospects, they are also bound into a layered concern for each of the magnificent animals involved.

The human drama is rarely as serious, but it is no less gripping for that. This year’s running will mark the end of one of the most astonishing careers anywhere in sport. The jockey AP McCoy has beaten all comers to the British Champions’ Jockey prize for the last 19 years. Rarely has any athlete achieved such sustained dominance. The scenes when McCoy returns to the grandstand at the end of this year’s race promise to be amongst the most stirring and emotional of the entire sporting year. And, of course, were he to win, it would represent a storyline to compare with any other in any setting.

Photo Credit: Paolo Camera

If you have not seen this remarkable British event already, make a note in your diaries. It takes place on April 11th and will be available online.

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