It’s one of the biggest dates in the racing calendar – and April 9 will be 183 years since the famous Grand National around Aintree racecourse began., writes Elliot Burrow.
Since the first running of the race in 1839, the Grand National has thrown up some shock results, and some heart-warming moments along the way, from Red Rum’s treble in the 1970s, to Rachel Blackmore’s success on Minella Times in last year’s running, making her the first female rider to win the race.
Ran over four miles and two furlongs, it’s the longest steeplechase contest around the world, with owners, trainers and jockeys all wanting to land the prize.
Matthew Watkinson is an owner who has horses with Lancashire Racing Stables, and one day dreams of being able to have one of his runners get to one of the biggest meetings.
The 35-year-old said: “It’s always a great occasion seeing high class jumps horses race around the ultimate jumping and stamina test.
“For the non regular racing fans it’s the most popular race by far, and for most people, their only horse racing bets of the year come in the Grand National.”
On what it means to be an owner and avid racing fan, he said: “We have just had the pinnacle of jumps racing in Cheltenham, and will soon have Royal Ascot on the flat, but there’s just so much great racing around each year, and the Grand National is one of them.
“My main ambition as an owner on the flat is to have a runner at Royal Ascot, and over jumps I would love to have a runner at Cheltenham, but to have a runner in the National one day would be nice.”
Before this year’s contest though, it’s only right to look back at some of the greatest results and stories the race has ever produced, starting with the biggest priced winner of the race, and only horse to have a fence named after him around the track…
Foinavon – 1967
A win that was so unbelievable, it ended up with Aintree naming the smallest fence on the course after him.
His trainer John Murphy wanted to ride Foinavon in the race, but he couldn’t make the 10 stone weight with being 6ft tall, and they only managed to find a jockey three days before the horses went under starters orders, 26-year-old John Buckingham, who had never rode in the race before.
Setting off at 100/1, very little believed that Foinavon had any real chance of winning on that day back in 1967, even so that neither his owner or trainer were there that day.
They both ended up missing out on what would go on to be one of the most eventful races ever in National history.
As the runners approached the 23rd fence, they were being led by two loose horses, and one swerved as the field were ready for take off.
This resulted in a pile up, with Foinavon emerging from the cluster of horses and chaos, and managing to find his way over, and put himself into a lead.
Buckingham looked around in disbelief as he surged into a 30 length lead, and he was never caught, leading to Foinavon becoming the biggest priced winner of the race, a record that has only been matched since in 2009 by Mon Mome, but never broken.
Red Rum – 1974
The best horse to ever grace the Aintree turf to date, Red Rum was simply magic around the Merseyside track, racking up three wins in the 1970s, a record that still hasn’t been broken.
Trained by car dealer Donald McCain on the beaches of Southport, ‘Rummy’ is known as the horse who ended up saving the National, and bringing the crowds back to the track.
His second win was just simply magnificent from start to finish, and a lot more convincing than his win over Crisp a year earlier.
To this day, Red Rum’s victory under Brian Fletcher in 1974 to make it back-to-back wins in the race is the highest ever weight carrying success, under 12 stone.
He went on to win his third National in 1977, and after his death in 1995, he was buried by the winning post at his beloved Aintree.
Minnehoma – 1994
Owned by comedian Freddie Starr, Minnehoma won the 1994 running of the Grand National at 16/1 under multiple winning champion jockey Richard Dunwoody.
After a tussle all the way up the straight, Minnehoma was produced to lead by Dunwoody on the run-in, before being met by one last challenge down his outside which he fought off.
It was Dunwoody’s second winner in the race after winning on West Tip back in 1986, and one of many career highlights for trainer Martin Pipe, who went on to be Champion Trainer 15 times, recording 4,183 winners across a 32 year period.
Red Marauder – 2001
A race ran in atrocious conditions to say the least, Red Marauder was one of only four finishers back in 2001.
Heavy conditions threatened the race beforehand, but despite this, all 40 runners still lined up to take on the contest which is hard enough to complete without the weather being against everyone involved.
Only two horses officially jumped all the fences without falling, Red Marauder and second placed Smarty, with third placed Blowing Wind, and the winner from the year before Papillon back in fourth, and both re-mounting.
Tiger Roll – 2019
Tiger Roll rocked up at Aintree in 2019 aiming to be the first horse since Red Rum to win two consecutive Nationals in a row.
Sent off the 4/1 favourite under Davy Russell, he cruised into contention heading down to the last fence to move alongside leader Magic Of Light, and the rest as we know is history.
He powered clear up the running, but never got the chance to equal Red Rum’s record, after Coronavirus meant the 2020 National was postponed, and his owner Michael O’Leary refused to run him in the race again, arguing it would not be fair for the horse to carry top weight around the course.
One last run over the Cross Country course at this year’s Cheltenham Festival saw him finish second, and the 12-year-old was granted a well earned retirement right on the spot from all of his connections.