Grand National History: Stories aplenty in Aintree's April Lottery

Features RSS / / 29 March 2012 / Leave a Comment

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Rough Quest wins the race in 1996

Rough Quest wins the race in 1996

"Cheltenham Gold cup runner-up Rough Quest became the first winning favourite for 14 years when running to a Timeform rating of 156 in beating Encore Un Peu."

Timeform's Adam Brookes delves into the history books and reports his findings on the world's most famous steeplechase, the Grand National at Aintree...

Although the Grand National 's roots had been germinating for a while, the first official running came in 1839 when a crowd of 40,000 are said to have cheered home the prophetically-named winning favourite Lottery. The race quickly became a handicap in 1843 thanks to Sir William Edward Topham, a handicapper and former Clerk of the Course at nearby Chester, with the marathon formally christened 'The Grand National Handicap Steeplechase' a further four years later. The first dual winner was Abd-El-Kadr in 1850/51, the first grey The Lamb in 1868, and the first person from outside the British Isles to compete Prince Karl (Karel) Kinsky in 1883. Austro-Hungarian ambassador Kinsky would steer his mare Zoedone to victory over a record-low field of 10 that year having purchased his mount for £800 after she'd landed the Warwick Grand Annual Steeplechase. More Royal success was to follow with the then Prince of Wales, later to be crowned King Edward VII, the owner of 1900 victor Ambush II.

The British stiff upper lip was firmly on display during the initial years of World War I with the race still run at Aintree in 1914 (Sunloch) and 1915 (Ally Sloper) before being forced to crash land at Gatwick Racecourse from 1916-18, while World War II understandably caused a National blackout from 1941 to 1945 with the course used for military purposes. With the likes of Golden Miller having won the race between the wars, it was little surprise that within two years of the race's return it was first run on a Saturday at the recommendation of Prime Minister Clement Atlee.

The race began being televised in 1960 and two years later the winner Kilmore was owned by movie maker Nat Cohen, who would later go on to produce such works as 1974's film adaptation of "Murder On The Orient Express". Even Agatha Christie, however, couldn't have dreamt up the Foinavon saga that was to unravel in 1967, or the swashbuckling pursuits of crackpot Spanish aristocrat Beltrán Alfonso Osorio, affectionately known as The "Iron Duke" of Alburquerque, who became so obsessed with the race after watching a film of it on his eight birthday that he attempted to ride the winner six times from '52 to '76, breaking several bones along the way but somehow managing to completing the course aboard Nereo in 1974.

Blue was the colour in 1971 with Fred Pontin's Specify undoubtedly being cheered home by 'Hi-de-Hi-ers' up and down the country, but it was most definitely red that dominated the remainder of the decade, 'Rummy' achieving his unique three wins and two seconds from '73 through '77. The diminutive Rubstic became the first Scottish-trained winner when obliging for John Leadbetter in 1979.

The Grand National as supreme storymaker reached its zenith with Aldaniti in 1981, while Grittar's success in '82 was notable for Dick Saunders becoming the oldest winning jockey at 48 and the fact that trainer Frank Gilman was the last permit holder to win the race. The same year saw Geraldine Rees (along with Charlotte Brew five years earlier) pave the way for lady riders when becoming the first of her sex to complete the course aboard Cheers. Public donations aided The Jockey Club's purchase of Aintree Racecourse 12 months later and the population surely felt it money well spent when Jenny Pitman became the first woman to saddle the winner with Corbiere.

The first Aintree showpiece of the 90s saw a new race record achieved when Mr Frisk bounced off firm ground to complete the course in 8m 47.8s, with the farcical "National That Never Was" taking place three years later. Freddie Starr may or may not have eaten any hamsters, but he definitely did own Martin Pipe's only National winner Minnehoma (1994) and two years later Cheltenham Gold cup runner-up Rough Quest became the first winning favourite for 14 years when running to a Timeform rating of 156 (would have won over half the Nationals since) in beating Encore Un Peu. 1997 saw the bomb scare that meant Lord Gyllene's victory was achieved on a Monday, while '99 was notable for former race-winning rider Tommy Carberry achieving the rare feat of also training an Aintree hero, Carberry's jockey son Paul famously dismounting via the unsaddling enclosure's rafters having steered the courageous Bobbyjo to victory.

Coincidentally, the turn of the century saw another father-son combo strike lucky with Papillon doing the business for Ted and Ruby Walsh. Red Marauder would win a brutal heavy-ground affair a year later; Amberleigh House rolled back the clock for Ginger McCain in 2004; while Silver Birch provided the Irish with their sixth success in nine runnings when scooping the 2007 renewal. Venetia Williams became only the second female trainer to win the race when her Mon Mome, the first horse to defy a three-figure starting price since Foinavon, edged out the previous year's winner Comply Or Die in 2009. Most recently Don't Push It pulled off an almighty gamble for the combination of A P, JP and Jonjo in 2010 while, for all that leading amateur rider Nina Carberry finished the course for the third time in as many goes 12 months ago, the latest renewal undoubtedly belonged to the Trevor-Hemmings-owned Ballabriggs, whose exhausting victory for Donald McCain bought the story of the Aintree Grand National full circle.

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