IT IS not often you can say so at this stage of the season, but yesterday I saw the Grand National winner.
His name was Red Marauder and he was standing in the wind at Brancepeth Manor Farm, high above Durham. Some considered he had the look of eagles and was aware of his celebrity as the first of only two horses to yomp without interruption through the quagmire of Aintree last April. Others thought he looked cold.
Red Marauder may run the Grand National again next spring, or he may never run again. He breaks blood vessels, has had ulcers and bad legs, and any recurrence of those problems will prompt immediate retirement. However, the old fool is not doing his cause any great help, suggesting that he is still full of vim by adopting the pose of the Ferrari horse in his paddock.
"I always said that if he never ran again it would not bother me," Norman Mason, the gelding's owner/trainer, said yesterday. "I'd like to let you know that we would not do anything that would endanger or ruin him.
"But he's in a great form in himself and if we can get him right and the ground is right he will run the National next year. You can see him up on his back legs like a bucking bronco in the paddock at the back here. When he goes out into the field he is always the boss, chasing the other horses around the place.
"It doesn't do his legs any good, but you've got to turn him out. Can't keep him inside. He's not the sort of horse you can keep bottled up. With spirit and heart like that I would like to run him. He's a very special horse."
Norman is enjoying himself now, but then just about his whole life has been built on hedonism. Mostly that of other people.
The Mason mighty fortunes derived from night-clubs, bars, bingo halls and amusement centres, largely in his native north-east, but also in the hot spots of Bootle, Preston and Leigh. The 65-year-old owner supervises some 40 of these outlets from underneath a reddish Arthur Scargill haircut, but it is not perhaps salubrious to point out the incongruity of his coiffure.
He got into the night-club business after bouncing at front of house. His empire began with a congregational hall in his home town of Sunderland. It should have held about 150 people, but Mason managed to squeeze in an extra 350. "I kept worrying that the floor might fall out," he said. …