Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Grand National amongst the Oaks


A line of river Oaks, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Today is the Wednesday before Grand National Saturday, a week later than normal because of Easter last weekend. Five years ago, my Mum and I were up in Mendocino County, staying at the Hopland Inn in Hopland. I hate to miss the Grand National, the race which first got me interested in racing when Red Rum just beat Crisp in 1973, whilst I was staying at my grandparents in Guildford. I think I wrote about this on the blog last year.

Anyway, I had travelled up to Hopland hoping that there might be an internet cafe somewhere in the village where I could follow the commentary of the race, but a quick perousal on the Friday evening when we arrived told me it was not to be found in Hopland itself, so I got up early in the morning and took the hire car up to Ukiah, the nearest town. It was so early that the only place which was open was a petrol station and no internet cafe as far as I could tell. I asked at the petrol station and they said I would be out of luck.

A little dejected, as I had not really exzpectde to find anywhere, I drove back to Hopland, under a beautiful clear sky, the sun rising from the east, casting a wonderful golden light accross the green and fertile countryside, a countryside of vines, hops and apple orchards, backed with osk covered hills.

I played around with the radio, hardly daring to think I might find the race being broadcast in northern California, but low and behold, I heard an English accent on one of the channles and sure enough, it was the BBC commentary on the race which was just about to start, being broadcast by the Berkeley College radio. I brought the car to a stop by the side of the road, moving back and forth to obtain the best reception. I was absolutely thrilled to be listening, and my memories of this national are more vivid than many of those for which I have sat the whole afternoon watching it and the build-up on TV.

I remember Davids Lad and Ad Hoc being up at the front and disputing the lead, my money being on Davids Lad. However, with the horses having covered a circuit and a half, the reception broke off for a couple of fences and by the time it was back, both horses were no longer being called (they had fallen) and the race was now between What's Up Boys, a beautiful and brave grey horse and the upstart chestnut Bindaree, who went on to win by a length or so, after four-and-a-half miles.

We ended up having a wonderful day, at least until the late afternoon, where, by the Pacific Ocean, we decided to go whale watching. It had been a lovely sunny and calm day inland, as we drove past apple orchards, pine forests and rocky cliffs and, indeed, in the harbour it was still nice and peacefiul, seals playing around in the clear water or lying in the sun. However, the Pacific had more for us that the odd sight of a bit of a whale reaching over the surface, for it had a bit of a gale and some rough waves which had Mum and most of the other passengers more than slightly regretting they had made the trip out. Still, we had seen our whales and Mum was feeling a lot better by the next morning.

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