How John McCririck helped save the Grand National
John McCririck’s influential role in saving the Grand National was fondly recalled on Friday by Lord Vestey, who labelled the former journalist and Channel 4 racing presenter as a "true lover of racing".
Vestey and the Jockey Club had reached a difficult point in their negotiations to buy Aintree from Bill Davies, the controversial property tycoon who had put the racecourse up for sale in 1982, when McCririck stepped in to help arrange a meeting between the parties.
McCririck’s persuasiveness and passion for Aintree and the Grand National was hugely important in convincing Davies to sell to the Jockey Club, according to Vestey, keeping the course out of the hands of those eyeing it for development and ensuring the world’s most famous race was not lost.
“When the Jockey Club were trying to buy Aintree from Mr Davies we were having great difficulty getting hold of him,” said Vestey. “John knew Mr Davies and called me up and said, ‘Come on, let’s go see him’. It was John who got me in to see Mr Davies and we took it from there. Everyone at the Jockey Club was very grateful for what he did for us.
“John really helped persuade Mr Davies that it was the right thing to sell to us. We had been desperately worried the course might be sold to developers and we’d lose the Grand National for good. John was his usual bombastic self in the meeting saying how Mr Davies couldn’t do this and mustn’t do that! It helped him to sell to us, I’m certain of that.”
While the meeting proved to be an important and memorable one for Vestey, the journey to Liverpool was equally extraordinary, with McCririck proving to be a magnet for the public.
“It was one of the most embarrassing train trips I’ve had with anyone on the way up to Aintree!” added Vestey. “John was at the height of his power in 1982 and was talking very loudly about a number of different things and was recognised by so many people. He spent a lot of time signing autographs and speaking to people – he really was very liked by them.
“John really did do some wonderful things for racing and was a true lover of the sport. His heart was in the right place and he was a good-hearted man. We will all miss him.”
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