Red Rum has pride of place in Grand National’s top 10
Stiff competition nonetheless in Aintree’s fabled history.
The 2020 Randox Health Grand National would have taken place this weekend, before being lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
No race worldwide grabs attention like the National, and the stories behind its heroes are often remarkable.
Several have had movies made about them; many others have races named after them; some are even remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Here, we take a look at 10 of the great race’s most memorable modern-day winners – and, of course, there is only one place to start.
Red Rum (1977)
If you were to ask the average man in the street over 40 to name a racehorse the odds are they would still come up with Red Rum.
Some credit him with effectively saving the great race – because when he won it for the first time in 1973 the crowd had dwindled and wider public interest was waning.
He followed up the following year, and then went on to finish second for the following two years as well.
Many felt his best chance of a historical third win had gone by the time he lined up as a 12-year-old in 1977 – with jockey Tommy Stack replacing Brian Fletcher, who had angered Ginger McCain a year earlier by saying he did not feel the horse was the force of old.
Still carrying top-weight and sent off the 9-1 joint-favourite, Red Rum took up the running after Andy Pandy fell at Becher’s on the second circuit and came home 25 lengths clear – sparking one of Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s most famous commentaries:
“They’re willing him home now! The 12-year-old Red Rum, being preceded only by loose horses, being chased by Churchtown Boy… They’re coming to the Elbow, just a furlong now between Red Rum and his third Grand National triumph! He gets a tremendous reception, you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool… and Red Rum wins the National!”
The remarkable triumph of Aldaniti and Bob Champion is pure fairytale.
Two years before their emotional victory, the odds were stacked against either of them making it to Aintree.
Aldaniti’s career was in the balance after he had broken down, while Champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer and told he had eight months to live.
Amazingly, both were nursed back to health to take their place in the world’s greatest steeplechase, but the dream was almost over at the first fence where Aldaniti made a bad mistake.
He recovered, and Champion allowed him to bowl along up front.
Taking a clear lead from the ninth fence, Aldaniti kept up the gallop – and although tiring on the run-in, he responded to Champion’s urgings to hold Spartan Missile, ridden by 54-year-old amateur John Thorne, by four lengths.
Fittingly the story was turned into a movie, Champions.
Devon Loch (1956)
Devon Loch’s collapse 50 yards from the winning post, with the race in his grasp, will always be one of sport’s great mysteries.
An enthusiastic crowd thought they were about to witness the first Royal victory in the Grand National for 56 years when the nine-year-old, owned by jump racing’s biggest patron, the Queen Mother, took up the running three fences from home in the hands of Dick Francis.
Devon Loch was clear of his nearest pursuer ESB when he suddenly sprawled and slithered to the ground, turning a National dream into a nightmare.
Whether it was the tumultuous cheers from the stands that startled the horse or he was trying to negotiate the water jump on the other side of the rails, Devon Loch was cruelly denied his place in the National roll of honour.
Tiger Roll (2019)
Many hardened punters thought there would never be another Red Rum. While the race had changed in nature since the 1970s from a welfare point of view, the handicapper also made it very difficult for previous winners.
However, the diminutive Tiger Roll debunked that theory and was an even easier winner than he had been in 2018 – and from a 9lb higher mark.
Davy Russell had him in touch throughout, and incredibly he was still on the bridle approaching the Elbow – winning by over two lengths.
He is far from a one-trick horse, though. As well as two Grand Nationals, the 10-year-old has also won the Triumph Hurdle and the National Hunt Chase and Cross Country Chase twice – meaning he is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner. No mean feat.
He has been denied a unique shot at Grand National history by the coronavirus – but he could still get the chance to win the race on three successive occasions next year, something not even Red Rum managed.
It might be fanciful thinking but he will still be a year younger than Red Rum when he won his third – and Tiger Roll is no ordinary horse.
Luck plays a big part in the Grand National, and the lottery of the race was no better illustrated than by the victory of 100-1 shot Foinavon.
He was even considered a no-hoper by his connections, with the owners not going to Aintree and his trainer and regular rider John Kempton preferring to head to Worcester.
No one could have possibly predicted what happened.
Foinavon was 30 lengths behind the leaders when the aptly-named loose horse Popham Down caused mayhem at the 23rd fence, the smallest on the course and the one after Becher’s.
With jockeys flying over the fence instead of horses, there was utter chaos. But somehow, John Buckingham and Foinavon managed to avoid the carnage.
By the time the others got going, Foinavon was 100 yards clear and he was still 15 lengths ahead of Honey End at the line – to record one of the most famous – and unlikeliest – wins in the race’s history.
Don’t Push It (2010)
It had to happen eventually – and at the 15th attempt, after more than one hard-luck story along the way, it duly did as Tony McCoy ended his drought in the world’s greatest steeplechase.
A few eyebrows were raised when McCoy elected to partner Don’t Push It from his choice of JP McManus-owned runners.
But on the day the money came, as he was backed into 10-1 joint-favouritism – surely more out of the public’s faith in McCoy than anything
the form book revealed.
So it was the perfect outcome for all concerned as McCoy nursed his mount round the big fences to allay stamina fears, looking the winner from some way out.
Never one for a flying Dettori-style dismount, McCoy’s delight – and relief -was evident as he waved his whip in salute at the packed grandstands on passing the post. A lifetime’s ambition achieved – job done.
Jenny Pitman made history by becoming the first woman to train the winner of the Grand National.
She had suffered heartache in the race when she was married to Richard Pitman, agonisingly beaten on Crisp by Red Rum 10 years earlier.
But Corbiere, ridden by Ben de Haan, made up for that with a thrilling victory over Greasepaint, holding the Irish raider’s late challenge by three-quarters of a length.
It was a triumph that helped earn Mrs Pitman the title ‘first lady of Aintree’.
Corbiere returned to finish third in the following two seasons, and his trainer captured a second National with Royal Athlete in 1995.
Rhyme ‘N’ Reason (1988)
Rhyme ‘N’ Reason was a most remarkable winner in a dramatic race. Connections of the David Elsworth-trained gelding were confident of a big run beforehand, but he was virtually out of the reckoning at Becher’s first time round.
He landed in a heap at that daunting obstacle, and it is one of racing’s miracles that Brendan Powell kept the partnership in one piece as the horse hauled himself back up.
It nonetheless left him miles behind, but he worked his way back into it and was left in front five from home when Little Polveir fell.
His concentration began to wander, however, and Durham Edition made what looked a race-winning move two out and shot clear.
That only served to galvanise Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, who gave chase with renewed vigour and swept past 100 yards from the line to win going away.
Lord Gyllene (1997)
No one will ever forget the year Lord Gyllene won the National. That is not just because he won looking like he could go round again, but it was the year when the famous race was run on a Monday.
A bomb scare reduced Saturday afternoon’s spectacular to chaos when the announcement was made that the entire course would have to be evacuated. Even the BBC’s Des Lynam was ushered off air.
Jockeys, trainers, owners and thousands of racegoers were forced to take refuge where they could in Liverpool – and everyone gathered again 48 hours later.
Lord Gyllene’s connections had managed to get a flyer and were one of the first lorries to leave the racecourse on the Saturday.
They were not hanging about in the race itself, either, as Lord Gyllene and Tony Dobbin powered to a 25-length success which equalled Red Rum’s 1977 winning margin.
This was the day Ruby Walsh really came to prominence, as the 20-year-old produced an ice-cool ride to land a huge day-of-race gamble on Papillon – trained by his father, Ted.
What was even more remarkable was that it was young Ruby’s first ride in the big race.
Available at 33-1 earlier in the day, Papillon’s odds went into freefall – and he was a 10-1 chance at the off.
Papillon travelled supremely well and took to the unique fences with aplomb.
He also showed he had no stamina worries as he repelled Mely Moss by a length and a quarter for a win which could be said to have marked the start of an era.
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