I watched the Grand National in a betting shop in East Ham High Street this afternoon. When I worked in betting shops twenty-five years ago, National day was the busiest of the year with the shop packed full for the race and then almost empty afterward.
Nowadays, of course, it's very different. Only six of us watched the race while four others, seemingly oblivious of the fact the race was on, played the FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - roulette, poker and the like). Horse Racing is no longer as vital to betting shops as it once was and indeed I suspect that without FOBTs, many shops now operating would close.
Bookmakers, despite this, still exert huge influence over horse racing and racing's rulers almost never stand up to the betting industry. For example, many in racing want the occasional blank day to recuperate but bookmakers want more racing and hate blank days. It's no secret they want as many races as possible to keep shops "busy" and doubtless punters confused.
Today, the bookies had, in the vernacular, a "right result". Mon Mome, previously well beaten in the Midlands National, won at 100/1, the longest-priced winner since Foinavon but there was no pile-up or similar today. Mon Mome was the clear winner of a fairly-run race.
In some ways, this success will put a bit of romance back into the National, which has lost its place in the public consciousness.