1- Crisp 1973 - It could not be anyone else really. So much has been written about Crisps performance in 1973 that there is not a lot I can add. Giving away lumps of weight to his opponents, Crisp took the lead after early leader Grey Sombrero made a mistake at first Bechers. It was not apparent just how far in front he was until after the Anchor Bridge Crossing but he was by now a distance in front and when the unfortunate Grey Sombrero crashed out at the Chair Crisp was a full six seconds ahead of his nearest pursuar. He should have been getting tired by now but if anything Crisp was further ahead - "what a fantastic ride Dick Pitman is having on Crisp - I can`t remember anyone so far ahead at this stage in the National" called commentator Julian Wilson. After Valentines only Red Rum appeared to be making any impression on Crisp but as they crossed the Anchor Bridge second time Rummy was still a distance behind. It was only after the last fence that Crisp started to weaken. At the entrance to the Elbow Crisp wandered a little and Pitman grabbed his whip in a vain attempt to keep Crisp going straight. Unfortunately the one smack with the whip had the opposite effect and Crisp veered to the left and lost valuable momentum. By the time he had the running rail to help him it was too late. So tired was Crisp and so full of running was Red Rum that Peter O`Sullevan called Red Rum the winner yards before the winning post.
Red Rum would have to wait another twelve months for immortality for the 1973 National belonged to Crisp.
Now I am sure that there are many of you who, when watching the closing stages of the 1973 race, pray for Crisp to get home, but let me take you to an alternate universe (my wife is a Star Trek fan so it`s not too hard for me to do this). In the alternate Aintree universe Richard Pitman doesn`t pick up his stick at the entrance to the Elbow and Brian Fletcher in a rare Aintree error of judgement leaves his challenge a fraction too late. Crisp just gets home and wins the 1973 National. Crisp though is very tired and pictures of the exhausted horse being led into the winners enclosure do not go down well. 1974 comes with the racecourse having been sold to Bill Davies and Red Rum wins his first National. By the 1975 race though, things are not going well for Aintree. Davies has alienated the racing authorities with his audacious plans for an Aintree Derby and an extention of flat racing. He also angers the Liverpool people by drastically raising the entrance prices. L`Escargot beats Red Rum in front of the smallest crowd in living memory. The race does not capture the public imagination and much is made in the press of this "dire" race where there have been two fatalities. Red Rum hardly gets mentioned. Whilst he has been a better than average National winner he is not a hat-trick seeking superstar. When the Jockey Club give their ultimatum to Bill Davies in December 1975 that if he does not co-operate they will transfer the National to Doncaster no one steps in to help. The Jockey Club are good as their word and the race is removed from Aintree. Davies is by now losing interest and starts trying to seek a buyer for the course. The 1976 National is staged at Doncaster on the same card as the Lincoln. Thirty runners (the maximum allowed) sees Rag Trade win with Red Rum (who of course was not so effective over Birch fences) only sixth. Bill Davies soldiers on but the National meeting without the National (two days of flat racing and a couple of races over the Mildmay course) is not a success (Davies had sulked and refused to spend the money maintaining the National course). Some dire flat racing in the summer of 1976 on rock hard ground is the last racing staged at Aintree. By the end of the decade Davies has sold the course to a property developer and Aintree is now a housing estate comprising "Topham Drive", "Paddock Parade" ,"Valentines Crescent" with the "Bechers Sports & Leisure Centre" nearby. As for the National, with mixed meetings becoming increasingly unpopular in the eighties the Doncaster National is eclipsed by the increase in prestige of the Irish & Scottish Nationals. Eventually moved to January it replaces the Yorkshire Chase. In 2006 the Betfair National was run at Southwell (sixteen runners) whilst Doncaster was being redeveloped.
A scary scenario I know but my theory has always been that Red Rum was the real saviour of Aintree - if it wasn`t for his achievements the public would not have missed the National had it had disappeared. Crisp had to lose in 1973 because Red Rum needed to win the race and ultimately save the National.
Of course Crisp also gave us Richard Pitman.........but then you can`t have everything.
2 - Lord Gyllene 1997 - With all the drama surrounding this years race, the coded bomb warnings received during the Aintree Hurdle , the evacuation of the racecourse, the Dunkirk spirit that ensued with the people of Liverpool opening their doors to the hundreds of stranded racegoers and officials, the re-staging of the race at five o`clock on a Monday evening etc etc. Somehow, Lord Gyllene`s actual victory is overshadowed by those extraordinary events. Lord Gyllene was a New Zealand bred horse bought by Uttoxeter owner Sir Stanley Clarke who had seen videos of him winning in his native land. Trained by Steve Brookshaw for whom this was his first National runner Lord Gyllene had put up good performances at his owners racecourse by taking the Singer & Friedlander Grand National Trial before being surprisingly beaten by Seven Towers in the Midlands National. At Aintree with just ten stone on his back Lord Gyllene took the lead at the first fence and was only headed briefly three times thereafter by the Jenny Pitman trained Smiths Band at the second, first Bechers and at the water where he was nearly carried out by the riderless Celtic Abbey. Making all the running on the second circuit Lord Gyllene simply galloped his rivals into the ground. He never put a foot wrong and destroyed the opposition by twenty five lengths. This winning distance equalled Red Rum`s second win in 1974 and has been bettered only by Red Marauder in 2001 (which doesn't really count). As I re-watched the race transfixed I was convinced that I had seen the next Red Rum. Lord Gyllene was only nine years old and as long as he was not overburdened by the handicapper there was no reason to believe that he would not come back and win more Nationals. Sadly it was not to be as the rest of Lord Gyllenes career was ravaged by injury. Whilst he stayed in training until he was thirteen (he was later sent to Martin Pipe) he only saw a racecourse two more times. We are left only with the memory of his 1997 performance (but what a memory it is). In my view this is the greatest Grand National winning performance of all time.
3 - Forest Prince 1966 - Forest Prince won the very last race over the National fences at the old Autumn meeting when he landed the Molyneux Chase in October 1965. The following year in his only ever National he took the lead at the fourth fence and stayed in front until the second last when he was collared by the unconsidered outsider Anglo. This was not a flashy performance by any means as he was never more than five lengths in front at any stage but in my view this was a gutsy, honest perfromance and of all the front running displays that dominated the Nationals of the Sixties this is my favourite. Forest Prince never raced at Aintree again.
4 - Hedgehunter 2004 - He won in 2005 but this should have been his year too as he blazed the trail from the first Canal Turn until the second Anchor Bridge Crossing. He then got tired, took a fall at the last and lay winded for several minutes. This was an outstanding front running performance in one of the most exciting Nationals ever. I have written about Hedgehunter elsewhere on this site - he deserved his win twelve months later
5 - Peacetown 1964 - The only horse to have led a National at the first fence, the water and at the last. Peacetown is the forgotten horse of the 1964 National as after the last fence he ploughed a lone furrow on the stands side finishing third and all photographs of the finish miss him out.
6 - Aldaniti 1981 - Everyone of course gets emotional when discussing Aldaniti`s victory - the broken down horse, the cancer-stricken jockey etc etc. But, let us not forget that this was also a great front running performance. Aldaniti hit the front far sooner than was planned after Carrow Boy was hampered and fell at the tenth fence. Having taken the lead he was only headed once thereafter by Royal Stuart at the water jump and when the latter was carried wide by a loose horse Aldaniti regained the lead and stayed there. To me the circumstances of this victory always seem to overshadow the manner in which the race was won.
7 - Black Apalachi 2009 - Having fallen at the second fence in his first appearance at Aintree when an unconsidered outsider in 2008 Black Apalachi went on to record a stunning pillar to post victory in that years Becher Chase. In the 2009 National he was now one of the leading fancies and went straight in front as the tapes rose (for a third time !!!) and approaching Bechers second time it really looked like he could make all the running to record a famous victory. Sadly then came Bechers second time and that was it. He gained some compensation a year later when chasing home Don't Push It, the only time he completed in four Nationals.
8 - Boom Docker 1977 - Whilst he only led for ten fences Boom Docker finds himself in our top fifteen for the manner in which he led. With the leaders from the start he was left in the lead at first Bechers when Sebastian V over jumped and fell. By Valentines he was jumping superbly and emulating Crisp by the time he was back on racecourse he was a distance in front. With his nearest rival Sage Merlin, falling at the Chair Boom Docker was a full two seconds further ahead of his latest pursuer than Crisp had been at the water. Still full of running as he went out onto the second circuit he surprisingly refused at the first fence. It is a mystery why he did so as he hadn`t put a foot wrong up until then and was showing no signs of weakening. Perhaps it was because he was so far ahead that something unnerved him. Boom Docker holds the record for being the furthest ahead at half way and for that alone he deserves to be mentioned here.
9 - Out and About 1963 - Both his runs in the National produced front running performances but whilst his 1964 run was overshadowed by the heroics of Peacetown the first two thirds of the 1963 National belonged to him. Taking a clear lead from the outset he stayed in front until the Canal Turn second time. Remaining with the leaders he blundered and unseated his rider at the twenty seventh fence.
10 - Uncle Merlin 1990 - A former winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup this American horse was sent to be trained by Tim Forster in attempt to emulate Jay Trump and Ben Nevis. Taking the lead at the fourth he blazed the trail with Mr Fisk until second Bechers where he appeared to stumble (after what was a perfectly good jump) on landing and unseated jockey Hywel Davies. Mr Frisk went on to smash the course record with the now riderless Uncle Merlin completing in third place. An injury the following January kept him out of the 1991 National and he returned to the US.
11 - Little Polveir 1989 - The only National winner since the war to have led at the water. Little Polveir took the lead after the Chair and was three abreast at half way with outsider Kersil and previous hero West Tip. Little Polveir took advantage of the inside berth and led out onto the second circuit where he remained in front. It was a great front running performance for a twelve year old who was having his fourth and final start in the race. A worthy winner on the day his win was sadly overshadowed by the events at Bechers first time.
12 - Freddiths Son 1962 - Another National run on heavy going but amazingly this year there was hardly any grief on the first circuit with only thee horses falling or unseating their riders. Freddiths Son and Duplicator shared the lead on the first circuit with Freddiths Son leading until the Canal Turn. For most of the first circuit these two raced clear of the third horse Dandy Tim who was himself clear of the others. When Dandy Tim unseated at the water and Duplicator fell at the nineteenth Freddiths Son found himself once again in a clear lead. Despite a terrible jump at the Canal Turn he remained in front until the twenty seventh. He faded but completed the course. This was a remarkable performance for a horse who was making his debut over the unique fences. He never returned.
13 - Delmoss 1980 - Delmoss ran in four Nationals between 1980 & 1983. A horse who liked to dictate the pace his best front running performance in the National was his first. This was not a vintage National by any means with a mediocre field running on desperately heavy ground. Delmoss was in front by the first fence and stayed there despite some terrible jumping. Fence after fence he clouted but somehow he managed to stay on his feet....that is until second Bechers. Having been overtaken by Ben Nevis on its approach he hit the top of the fence and came down. Having got his jumping together he blazed the trail for a circuit in both the 1982 & 1983 Nationals when ridden by Bill Smith.
14 - The Last Fling 2002 - The Last Fling was twelve when he lined up in 2002. He had previously run in two Nationals running an excellent race to finish seventh in 2000 and had unseated early in the mud a year later. On his third attempt he took the lead after Wicked Cracks fall at the first fence and quickly drew clear of the field accompanied by the Kim Bailey trained Supreme Charm and the riderless Red Ark. He was clear by the water and it was not until Bechers second time that he was headed. Clearly tiring he hit the Foinavon fence and when squeezed for room at the Canal Turn he took a crashing fall. Tragically a broken shoulder necessitated his destruction. A grand servant to trainer Sue Smith he won thirteen races and was particularly effective at Haydock where in the 1999-2000 season he won their three major chases, the Edward Hanmer Memorial, Peter Marsh and De Vere Gold Cup. A smashing horse - he deserved better.
15 - Ballycassidy 2006 - He didn`t get very far on his National debut (departing at the second) but this top class performer who had run in two Cheltenham Gold Cups took to the fences much better a year later. He was up with the leaders throughout but didn`t hit the front until Valentines. Despite surrendering the lead to Puntal over the Chair and the Water he retook the lead going out into the country for the second time and was clear when he took the most horrific looking fall at Valentines. Nine times out of ten a fall like that would have been fatal but thankfully he was quickly on his feet and lived to fight another day. He unseated at the second Canal Turn a year later.
16 - Tea Fiend 1960 - The first televised National saw the first in a sequence of great front running performances during the decade. Tea Fiend took the lead at the first and was clear by the Anchor Bridge Crossing. Apart from showing a dislike to the fence after Bechers (where he slowed to a virtual walk on both circuits) he jumped well until surrendering the lead to Merryman II & Badenloch at the Canal Turn. He struggled thereafter but stayed on to finish a distant fifth. He ran the following year and fell at the very first fence.
17 - Conna Castle 2010 - He wasn`t supposed to stay beyond two and a half miles but he took the lead following the fall of Erics Charm at the first and along with Black Apalachi led the field a merry dance until his stamina ran out approaching Bechers second time and he didn`t last home. However he gave my son Conor some fun as he clutched his 100-1 each way ticket.
Here`s how the Grand National honours board would look if the race was decided at the first fence, half way (water) and at the last fence (winner in capitals).
|Year||1st Fence||Water||Last Fence|
|1960||Tea Fiend||Tea Fiend||MERRYMAN II|
|1961||Fresh Winds||Fresh Winds||NICHOLAS SILVER|
|1962||Freddiths Son||Freddiths Son||KILMORE|
|1963||Out and About||Out And About||Carrickbeg|
|1966||Willow King||Forest Prince||ANGLO|
|1968||Valbus||The Fossa||RED ALLIGATOR|
|1969||Limetra||Steel Bridge||HIGHLAND WEDDING|
|1971||Gay Buccaneer||Astbury||Sandy Sprite|
|1972||Fair Vulgan||Fair Vulgan||WELL TO DO|
|1974||Bahia Dorada||Pearl of Montreal||RED RUM|
|1975||Zimulator||Glandford Brigg||Red Rum|
|1976||Highland View||Spanish Steps||Red Rum|
|1977||Duffle Coat||Boom Docker||RED RUM|
|1978||Tied Cottage||Sebastian V||Sebastain V|
|1979||Purdo||Wagner||Rough and Tumble|
|1984||Burnt Oak||Burnt Oak||HALLO DANDY|
|1987||Lean Ar Aghaidh||Lean Ar Aghaidh||Lean Ar Aghaidh|
|1988||Insure||Lean Ar Aghaidh||Duhram Edition|
|1989||Brown Trix||LITTLE POLVEIR||LITTLE POLVEIR|
|1990||Stars Delight||Uncle Merlin||MR FRISK|
|1991||Oklaoma II||Golden Freeze||Garrison Savannah|
|1992||Golden Minstrel||Golden Minstrel||PARTY POLITICS|
|1994||Double Silk||Garrison Savannah||Moorcroft Boy|
|1995||Superior Finish||Do Be Brief||ROYAL ATHLETE|
|1996||Sure Metal||Three Brownies||Encore un Peu|
|1997||LORDGYLLENE||Smiths Band||LORD GYLLENE|
|1998||Scotton Banks||Ciel de Brion||EARTH SUMMIT|
|1999||Nahthen Lad||Blue Charm||Blue Charm|
|2002||Wicked Crack||The Last Fling||Whats Up Boys|
|2004||Al Capone||Hedgehunter||Clan Royal|
|2005||Colnel Rayburn||Clan Royal||HEDGEHUNTER|
|2007||The Outlier||Naunton Brook||SILVER BIRCH|
|2008||No Full||Milan Deux Mille||COMPLY OR DIE|
|2009||Irish Invader||Black Apalachi||Comply or Die|
|2010||Erics Charm||Conna Castle||DON`T PUSH IT|
|2012||Giles Cross||Planet of Sound||Seabass|
|2013||Balthazar King||Balthazar King||Teaforthree|
|2014||Across the Bay||Across the Bay||PINEAU DE RE|
|2015||Bob Ford||Rebel Rebellion||MANY CLOUDS|
|2016||Double Ross||Saint Are||The Last Samuri|
Ever wondered who that loose horse was that`s fighting out the finish ? No.....Well here are some notable performances by loose horses. To qualify for this section the horse must have jumped every fence and finished the race in the top six. Since 2009 with the new "running out" areas on all the fences such achievements will be rarer.
1964 - LIZAWAKE (1st) - One of several to come down this year at the Chair. This was one of the closest finishes in years so his efforts in coming first were completely ignored but he features prominently in photographs of the finish.
1966 - PACKED HOME (4th) - Unseated Tommy Carberry at Bechers first time and continued amongst the leaders for the rest of the race.
1972 - GAY BUCCANEER (5th) - In 1971 he had led the field until being carried so wide at the Canal Turn by a loose horse that he was relegated from first to last in a manner of strides. He completed the rest of the race in the rear. A year later he unseated his rider at the eleventh fence in possibly one of the "softest" unseated riders in the history of the National. Apart from running out on the approach to the water (I`ve let him off because he jumped the rails) and nearly carrying out the long time leader FAIR VULGAN he behaved for the rest of the race and in a race of some considerable grief was the only loose horse to complete.
1987 - BROWN TRIX (1st) - The greatest performance by a loose horse of all time. BROWN TRIX was ridden by a fifty year old plus amateur who really had no place to be in the National. Having got rid of his inexperienced pilot at the third fence the horse put in a superb round of jumping to trounce eventual winner MAORI VENTURE. If he`d had a proper jockey on board who knows what he could have achieved (he had been a useful horse in his younger days when trained by Fred Winter). Two years later he tried again and this time it all went horribly wrong.
1989 - SMART TAR (1st-dead heat) - Up with the leaders on the second circuit the last horse to carry the famous Courage colours in the National unseated Carl Llewellyn at the twentieth fence. Continuing as if still in the race for real he raced neck and neck up the Elbow with the eventual winner LITTLE POLVEIR - I can`t separate them.
1990 - UNCLE MERLIN (3rd) - The American winner of two Maryland Hunt Cups put up a great front running performance (see above) before landing too steeply at Bechers when leading (see below) and pitching Hywel Davies over his head (incidentally the Welshman who won the National on Last Suspect in 1985 came to grief at second Bechers no less than four times during his National career).
1997 - NUAFFE (3rd) - With a reputation for being a notoriously dodgy jumper he put in a clear round after he had fallen at the eleventh.
2000 - MICKOS DREAM (3rd) - Owned by a syndicate of Irish prison guards and ridden by a former winning jockey in Jason Titley there were high hopes for this winner of the valuable Thyestes Chase in Ireland. Unfortunately these were dashed at the very first fence with a typical "too fast, too steep" fall. Thererafter apart from a mistake at second Bechers he jumped superbly. He didn`t return to Aintree but became a top class two mile chaser in his native Ireland the following season.
2002 - RED ARK (6th) - Unseating at the very first fence, Red Ark thereafter ran a superb race. Always up with the leaders he finally finished sixth. In fact he seemed to fare much better without a rider as the following year he toiled in the rear until being pulled up after the Canal Turn second time. DJEDDAH finished fifth this year but he only jumped three fences without a rider.
2003 - WONDER WEASEL (5th) - A third fence faller he continued to finish fifth. The following year he fared much better with a rider and nearly got round.
2013 - THE RAINBOW HUNTER (2nd) - After the course was widened in 2009 to allow loose horses to run out it did look like no horse would ever complete the course riderless and jump every fence. In fairness why would they want to when it was now so easy to run around them. In the immediate years after the changes loose horses could happily amble around the fences but in 2013 the year the National changed forever The Rainbow Hunter brought back memories of the loose horse of yore. As we all know the whole field completed the first seven fences intact but as the enormous field approached the Canal several horses were unsighted and whilst no horse fell three riders were unseated including Aiden Coleman on The Rainbow Hunter. The horse continued and despite many opportunities to run out stuck with the field and jumped every fence. A brilliant performance he was the only horse who could match Auroras Encore as he drew away from the field and finished a clear second. The following year he only got one fence further when Coleman was again hampered and knocked out of the saddle.
2016 - HADRIANS APPROACH (8th) & THE ROMFORD PELE (8th) - 2016 was an excellent year for our riderless friends. Hadrians Approach unseated at the very frst fence but continued to jump every fence riderless. He was even leading approaching the thirteenth and the Chair when he got a little too close to the leaders for comfort. He dropped back thereafter and it looked like he was going to bypass the Canal Turn second time but another loose horse, Gallant Oscar cut across him and he was forced to jump the fence. The Romford Pele also departed relatively early and continued with the field for the remainder of the race. Two horses who unseated early on the second circuit Gallant Oscar (who`s rider clinged on for dear life until gravity won the day) and Ballanagour also crossed the line in fourth and sixth place.
It is bad enough falling but think how bad it must be for connections for your horse to come to grief when leading. Here are some very unfortunate horses (and mares) who had the misfortune to leave the race when leading.
1965 & 1967 - RONDETTO - A great Aintree favourite and former winner of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury. Rondetto ran in five Nationals but only completed once when finishing third to Highland Wedding in 1969. Prior to that he led from the thirteenth fence in 1965 before falling at the fence after Valentines and in 1967 he was actually first over the twenty third fence but in the confusion he unseated Johnny Haine in the process.
1971 - GAY BUCCANEER led the field until the Canal Turn first time when he was hampered by a loose horse who carried him so wide he went from first to last in a manner of strides. Although he finished the course he could not get anywhere near the leaders thereafter. Ironically a year later when he was running loose he did his best to try and carry out the leader Fair Vulgan at the water. 1971 also saw the mare MISS HUNTER unseat when leading at the Chair and BEAU BOB unseated after jumping Bechers second time in a clear lead (this was not picked up by either the BBC or Movietone cameras)
1975 - Charlie Swans dad Captain Donald Swan blazed the trail on ZIMULATOR until coming a cropper at the fourth fence
1976 - John Francome and GOLDEN RAPPER took the lead approaching Bechers second time. Taking the brave route down the inside where the drop is at its fiercest they took the most frightening of falls which left Francome unconscious. Fortunately the horse got up without a scratch but he never returned to Aintree.
1977 - BOOM DOCKER is dealt with above but after he refused the favourite ANDY PANDY was left in front and by Bechers second time was clear when he fell.
1978 - TIED COTTAGE and Tommy Carberry on the horses only visit to Aintree blazed the trail until first Bechers when they fell. As one wag observed "they tried to jump the fence sideways".
1979 - Another early leader PURDO and Bob Champion fell at first Bechers
1981 - CARROW BOY was unlucky at the tenth fence as a loose horse crossed his path on the approach which clearly unsighted him as he simply crumpled on landing.
1988 - STRANDS OF GOLD gave Peter Scudamore a crashing fall at second Bechers having taken the lead at the previous fence. LITTLE POLVEIR took over and was looking all over the winner when an innocuous mistake at the twenty sixth sent rider Tom Morgan into the air. Twelve months later the horse made amends for this error.
1989 - STEARSBY - A former winner of the Welsh National and Mildmay Memorial at Sandown was disputing the lead with West Tip over Valentines and the tenth fence which he cleared with ease. However, at the eleventh he simply galloped into the fence throwing rider Brendan Powell (who had tasted National glory just twelve months before) through the fence whilst the horse remained on the other side poking his head over to see what all the fuss was about.
The nineties only saw one horse come down when leading UNCLE MERLIN at second Bechers which is dealt with above and the twenty first century has seen BEAU in 2001 unseat when leading at the twentieth and BALLYCASSIDY another front runner dealt with above falling at Valentines second time. BEWLEYS BERRY in 2007 was cantering when he fell at second Bechers and in 2009 a similar fate befell BLACK APALACHI - see above. Particularly galling for my wife who chose this one over her original selection Mon Mome !!
In 2015 THE DRUIDS NEPHEW took the lead at Valentines and looked to be travelling like a winner until he simply slithered to the ground at the next fence having looked to have jumped it perfectly well. He was very fancied to make amends for his misfortune a year later but the ground went against him and he was pulled up.
The following horses (and one mare) deserve a mention as although their National experience was extremely brief (for all this was their only Aintree visit) but they were all leading when they fell at the very first fence. There is nothing like going out at the top :-DUFFLE COAT (1977), DEEP GALE (1982), WICKED CRACK (2002), ERIC`s CHARM (2010)
He didn`t fall but spare a thought for poor ACROSS THE BAY and Henry Brook who held a clear lead at the water in 2014 but as he tried to set out onto the second circuit found the riderless Tidal Bay on his inner. The loose horse had decided he had done enough and was trying to make his way to the stable entrance. The two locked horns and despite Brooks best efforts he was carried right across the course where he collided with a plastic rail. He was able to continue but he dropped from first to last in a matter of strides. The pair eventually finished fourteenth but oh what might have been. An understandably dejected Brook described himself as "gutted" after the race.