Oh De-Ar Mee! Dame Judi Dench is Out of the Grand National

Dame Judi Dench

By The National Churches Trust [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I know what you’re thinking: April Fool’s Day was a week ago, idiot. So while the title of this piece is slightly misleading, I can actually confirm that Dame Judi Dench, the Oscar-nominated actress that has kept James Bond on the straight and narrow for the past two decades, was scheduled to run in the 2018 Grand National.

Okay, so it wasn’t the Dame herself, rather a horse – As De Mee – that the actress has an ownership stake in. The eight-year-old (that’s the horse, not Ms Dench) has suffered a leg injury on the gallops and will not participate in the showpiece event at Aintree on Saturday April 14.

It’s a shame for the horse’s connections and it’s a shame for punters too: As De Mee had opened with the bookmakers at 66/1, but was slowly gaining traction in the market and being backed in until the sad news came out.

Trainer Paul Nicholls was naturally disappointed. “I’ve been preparing As De Mee all season with the Grand National in mind,” he said. “Hopefully he might get there next year if he is back in full training by Christmas.”

The Grand National festival has long had regal connections, and the Dame – who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love – would certainly have brought some class and sophistication to an occasionally raucous affair on Merseyside!

Judi is an Unlikely Shrewdie

Intriguingly, Dame Judi Dench has previous in winning high profile races.

She has a stake in a number of different horses, and back in 2008 she had the best result of her ‘career’ when Smokey Oakey, a 10/1 fancy, triumphed in the Lincoln Handicap; a renewal known to punters as the first half of the ‘Spring Double’ along with the Grand National.

Dench was away filming so wasn’t present at Doncaster, but Mark Tompkins, who trained the four-year-old to victory, said “…it was through Bryan [Agar] that I met Dame Judi, and from going to see her at the Chichester Festival, she said she’d like a horse.

“This is the first one she’s had and she’s a real enthusiast. She takes a great interest and so do a lot of her friends. I am sure they will be celebrating tonight.”

On the day Dench pocketed a winner’s cheque for £77,900; mere pocket money compared to her salary expectations in the ‘day job’.

Her love of racing is long-lasting. “I had a French sister-in-law whose family had a racing stable in Chantilly. And I went over there with my family and they were racing in Chantilly and we went,” she said in interview.

“There was a horse named after my cat and it came in (won) and I’ve never quite known what we won because I was quite little! But it probably paid for our holiday. I used to ride a lot too, so after that I’ve always had a huge love for racing.”

And if you are fancying a flutter on the Grand National, the Dame has some advice for you. She was planning to back Definitly Red, who has since been removed from the race, but has another tip nonetheless: “I think I would put money on Definitly Red, by a fact of having a red headed grandson! Splash of Ginge as well – I’ve spent quite a lot of money on him!”

Believe it or not, there have been dafter reasons for backing a winner in the National!

A Grand Day Out

The Grand National festival kicks off next Thursday, with a smattering of Group 1 races on the opening day and Ladies Day (Friday April 13).

Of course, all eyes are on the Saturday, when the title race takes place at 5:15pm. The Grand National is the most wagered-upon sporting event in the UK, and in 2017 the bookmakers predicted that some £250 million would be bet on the race – an incredible one-in-four people in Great Britain were expected to have a flutter!

This year’s Grand National looks set to be a wide open affair, with five horses expected to have the bulk of the betting market behind them.

Total Recall is the bookmakers’ favourite, and this is a horse which fell in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March. He had won three in a row prior to that, however.

But strong pressure will come from Anibale Fly, who was an impressive third in the Gold Cup, and Blaklion – a former winner on the National course at Aintree.

Glenfarclas Chase champion Tiger Roll and Minella Rocco, a former Gold Cup runner-up, are also fancied to contend.

Splash of Ginge, incidentally, can be backed at 66/1!