Colin Mackenzie’s main claim to fame has always been that he was the reporter who found on-the-run Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs in Brazil in 1974 but on Saturday that achievement might be eclipsed if he becomes the first journalist to own the winner of the Grand National.
And the horse in question could not be more aptly named – Fleet Street.
Speaking on Friday morning as he drove up to Liverpool for the big race, Mackenzie was not exactly exuding confidence.
He told Axegrinder: ‘You’d have to say that victory is fairly unlikely. After all, he’s 100-1 with the bookmakers.
‘He’s been a very good horse indeed but has suffered from injuries and illness. He was bought in Germany by Henry Ponsonby, where he had won three times, and he was already named Fleet Street, which appealed to me. I own one-twelfth of the horse but I’m the only journalist among the owners.
‘He did well over hurdles in 2004, finishing third in big races at Cheltenham and Aintree, but then he got the equine equivalent of MRSA and nearly died five times. So he had 18 months off, came back and then immediately got injured again and needed another long break.
‘He’s now recovered and he won well over fences at Kempton around Christmas time.”
How would winning the Grand National compare with finding Biggs and gaining that massive scoop all those years ago.
‘Oh, it would be right up there. Finding Biggs gave me a huge adrenalin rush. But those days are long gone.”
Indeed, he is not among those urging the BBC to rebroadcast the 1988 film based on Antony Delano’s book Slip-Up, about Mackenzie’s discovery of Biggs in Brazil, how the Daily Express then lost their exclusive and how Inspector Jack Slipper of Scotland Yard failed to bring Biggs back to Blighty.
‘The film made me out to be a complete twit and was highly libellous of Jack Slipper. I don’t think it will ever be shown again.”
Last year’s Grand National was an important occasion for Mackenzie – it was his last day as senior racing correspondent of the Daily Mail before beginning his retirement. Despite that, he is continuing to freelance and even on a recent three-month tour of New Zealand, Malaysia and India with wife Linda (‘a couple of Saga louts”) he couldn’t resist penning 25,000 words for a blog.
Back to the horses and, reading between the lines, Axegrinder got the impression Mackenzie has much brighter hopes this summer for a horse he owns called the Betchworth Kid. ‘He won three times last season and ended the year finishing second in the November Handicap. He’s won us about £70,000 in prize money so far.
‘He’ll be targeted at the big staying races this year but he needs soft ground. He’s due to run at Nottingham next Wednesday.”
Mackenzie was nicknamed the Betchworth Kid when he started out on the Daily Express. Colleagues spotted that he was always rushing out to the betting shop and, as he’d been brought up in Betchworth and the Cincinnati Kid was the hit movie at the time, it seemed a suitable monicker.
Back to Saturday’s big race at Aintree, what would he say to all those hacks around the country considering putting a few quid on Fleet Street just because of the name?
‘My advice would be keep your money in your pocket. But then again, I’ve had a modest bet on the horse at 280-1 with Betfair.”