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Jason’s Grand National memories

Jason Fildes
Jason Fildes

Jason Fildes, Haydock Park’s general manager, occupies the most senior role at the North West racecourse.

Appointed to the post three years ago, Mr Fildes, who lives in Pendleton, tells Tony Dewhurst about his passion for racing ahead of Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National.

He will be on duty at Aintree as one of the chief operating officers for The Grand National meeting.

Jason, they say that the Grand National is the race that stops a nation. What are your memories of the world’s greatest steeplechase?

“I’ve seen every Grand National live for the last 37 years - and the first one I saw was the great Red Rum winning his third Grand National crown in 1977.

I can recall the late Peter O’Sullevan’s vibrant commentary so clearly: ‘There’s three furlongs left, they are willing Red Rum home now.

He is going to do it. I’ve never heard a crowd like this.’

Then, as Red Rum crossed the line, hats, programmes, newspapers and scarves flew everywhere.

It was just an explosion of sporting joy.

I watched it from the lawn in front of the stands and I raced back to see Red Rum and Tommy Stack, the jockey, coming into the winners’ enclosure with everybody going crazy.

The only Grand National I’ve missed in the last 40 years was Aldaniti’s victory under Bob Champion in 1981.

The Grand National always generates a thrilling story, but Bob Champion recovering from cancer to ride Aldaniti, and Red Rum, who had been written off as a no hoper until Ginger McCain rescued him, was arguably the greatest of them all.

I couldn’t have been further away from Aintree that day, though.

I was working on a fruit farm in Orange, New South Wales, Australia.

But I still tuned into the race Down Under, in a tent listening to the BBC World Service in the middle of the night.

Jason, you’ve been involved in racing for many years, What was your favourite racing adventure?

‘The 1983 Derby at Epsom, Lester Piggott’s last Derby winner on a horse called Teenoso.

I went to Epsom with a group of friends and we had a ball.

By the last race we had won a few bob and then, out of the blue, we decided to watch England play Scotland in the Home International Championships at Wembley a few hours later.

So we trekked across London and managed to buy three tickets from a friendly tout outside the stadium.

The big match had already kicked-off when we emerged from the tunnel.

Suddenly, right in front of me, Terry Butcher headed Kenny Samson’s long throw across the goal – and Bryan Robson rammed the ball into the Scotland net.

So there we were, in our black morning suits, jumping up and down, cheering like mad.

However, our joy quickly turned to horror when we saw that we were in the middle of the Tartan Army and a giant Scotsman, who looked like he was auditioning for a baddie in Taggart, made it perfectly clear that we had to leave...and quickly.

Luckily, a steward spotted our predicament and we were led to safety from the baying Scotsmen who seemed to have snapped up most of the 84,000 tickets.

It proved to be a double celebration, though, England winning 2-0.

How do you relax away from racing?

I’m a very keen follower of Burnley FC, a season ticket holder, and a great admirer of their manager Sean Dyche.

Sport fascinates me, in terms of how certain managers can motivate a particular group of players, and Dyche, a brilliant coach, has proved to be a master of his art at Turf Moor.

Burnley were in the bottom half of the Championship when Dyche took charge and now they are established in the Premier League and could qualify for Europe, having beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and drawn with Manchester United at Old Trafford, so surely he has to be the 2017-18 manager of the year.

If you could meet one person past or present, and from any walk of life, who would it be?

David Coleman, the late BBC television commentator.

He was the voice of my youth and Sportsnight with Coleman was how I got my sporting fix.

He had an instinctive feel for the event, and no matter what sport he reported on, from greyhounds to boxing, he brought it to life.

In those days there was hardly any live sport on TV, so Coleman and the great Brian Moore, who presented the Big Match on ITV, provided the words to the action.

If there was one thing you could change in racing what would it be?

‘I’d like to see less politics in the sport and a better relationship with the bookmakers.

There are so many people involved in racing who so work hard, especially the unsung heroes, groundsmen and the stable staff.

We have an incredible team at Haydock Park but sometimes I’m in awe of the jockeys because they are so brave.

The best one I’ve seen is Richard Dunwoody. Horses seemed to jump brilliantly for him.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wife and two boys Will and Sam.

We are a close unit and we’ve lived in Pendleton for 18 years.

We love the village and the area because the Ribble Valley is a very friendly place to live.

I enjoy the quiet and long walks on Pendle Hill with our dogs and nights in with the family.

Who would be your four ideal dinner party guests?

Sean Dyche, William Haggas, the trainer, Tom Cruise and Marilyn Monroe to add a bit of sparkle!

Grand National tickets, contact 0344 579 3001 or randoxhealthgrandnational.co.uk