September 27, 2023
The Aintree Grand National – Best Previous Winners
The Aintree Grand National is the world’s most famous steeplechase, and Ed Quigley takes us down a trip down memory lane, reminding us of some of the great horses to have won the thrilling encounter, and what the 2024 edition may have in store…
The Grand National
The Grand National is an annual National Hunt Handicap Chase, held in Aintree, Merseyside, England. It is the most valuable jump race in Europe, and arguably the most famous race in the world, dating back to 1839 in the inaugural event won by a horse called Lottery. Racing over an official distance of about 4 miles and 2-and-half furlongs with the horses jumping 30 fences around two circuits of the historic venue, it presents a thorough and unique test of stamina and skill for both equine and human participants. The Grand National course itself is an idiosyncratic test, with bigger fences than would be found on a conventional track. Fences such as ‘The Chair’ and ‘Becher’s Brook’ are fences that are famous themselves for being part of the make-up of this extraordinary event.
Famous Grand National Horses
The 1967 renewal is one of the most famous, mainly due to the absolute pandemonium that developed during the contest. At what would generally be considered an innocuous 23rd fence in comparison to some of the others on the circuit, there was a massive pile-up and all sorts of carnage, allowing unconsidered 100/1 outsider Foinavon to sneak through and win. A loose horse who had unseated his rider at the first fence, suddenly veered across the track in front of the leading horses at the aforementioned 23rd obstacle, causing all sorts of infringements, with some horses coming to a stop, some jockeys falling off, and some horses even started running in the wrong direction, running head-on into the oncoming equine traffic. Foinavon, at the time of the drama, was looking outclassed, and in danger of being tailed-off, being some 30 lengths or so behind the main bulk of the horses in the race. With all the madness going on in front of him, this gave Foinavon’s jockey John Buckingham, time to avoid the drama, steer his horse around the danger and pop over the fence on the outside of the runners. Some horses and jockeys managed to keep the partnerships intact and continue the contest but by that point. Foinavon was long gone and not for catching. The fence will forever be remembered for that momentous occasion, and it was officially named the ‘Foinavon fence’ in 1984.
Red Rum is the horse most famously associated with the race. He won the Grand National on three occasions, in 1973, 1974 and 1977, and was runner-up in 1975 and 1976. In the 1973 renewal, Red Rum beat the Australian raider Crisp. Crisp led the field virtually all the way in that year’s National, and at the last fence was 15 lengths clear of Red Rum, his nearest pursuer. Red Rum however, made up the ground in the closing stages, to rope in the tired Crisp to win by three-quarters of a length. That race is often regarded as one of the greatest Grand Nationals in history. 12 months later, Red Rum retained his title at the carrying 12 stone, and he followed that win by landing the Scottish Grand National, and to this day remains the only horse to have done the double in the same season. Runner up in 1975, jockey Tommy Stack took the ride in the 1976 renewal. Again, Red Rum saved his best for Aintree but was held off by Rag Trade, but the following year Red Rum was back! Stack rode the 12-year-old to his record third Grand National triumph, in which is one of those great moments etched into Racing folklore.
The modern-day king, as the tiny in stature but big-in-heart Tiger Roll notched up back-to-back wins in 2018/2019 to become the first horse to win consecutive Grand Nationals since the mighty Red Rum. Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell teamed up on both occasions to record victory, as the diminutive little warrior jumped his rivals ragged on both occasions. Tiger Roll never got to race again in the big one at Aintree, but remains one of the most popular winners of the race in recent times.
Well, it is too early to make any cast-iron assertions, and it will be interesting as to whether defending champion Corach Rambler heads down this route again, as connections have suggested they may well tilt at windmills this season, and hunt some Grade 1 prizes. Capodanno is a lightly-raced sort who travelled well for a long way in the 2023 renewal before tiring, and I would expect him to improve for that experience, and he will be 8 by race day, so he could be a stronger candidate next time around, and he would be a tentative pick at this stage for the Willie Mullins stable.