The following list celebrates some of the great riding performances seen at Aintree since 1960. These are in no particular order (although the Captain Parker Bowles recovery is nothing short of amazing) but are included to show the bravery, determination and sheer bloody mindedness of those brave souls who put life and limb at risk for our pleasure day in day out.
The Best Recovery You Never Saw.
Janie Evans - Damas - The first fence 1998
Perhaps the greatest recovery of all time occurred at the very first fence in 1998 and was by an Australian jockey Jamie Evans who at the time got the odd ride for Martin Pipe. Riding outsider Damas he was one of the last horses to jump the fence on the outside where four horses had fallen in a heap directly in front of him. The horse was brought to a complete standstill and the rider was pitched over the horses head. Somehow Evans managed to pull himself back into the saddle. The feat was not mentioned anywhere until now and it is only if you view the coverage very very closely that you can see it. The pair continued a long way behind until Damas repaid his rider by refusing at the eleventh and pitched him unceremoniously over the fence.
The Icelandic Barrel Trick
Chris Grant - Captain Parkhill - The Chair 1985
So often the "nearly" man of Aintree Chris Grant finished second in three Nationals, three Tophams and one Becher Chase in an Aintree career that spanned between 1980 & 1994. In 1985 when riding Aintree regular Captain Parkhill they ran into the Chair. Chris was knocked sideways and ended up handing horizontally to one side. As the horses race towards the water he manages to clamber back on board the horse and remarkably they go on to finish the course.
"Look Mum No Hands"
Charlie Mann - Williamson - First Bechers 1983
Charlie Mann is now a successful Lambourn trainer and is also famous for having ridden the winner of the Czech Republics great steeplechase, the Velka Pardubicka in 1995 on It's a Snip (some eight years after he had officially retired from the saddle). Before his Eastern European exploits Mann was a National Hunt jockey who rode in four Nationals between 1981 & 1987. He never hot further than the seventeenth fence and in 1983 on 100-1 outsider Williamson performed one of the greatest acrobatic performances ever seen at Aintree. Riding on the inside and amongst the leaders the horse hit the fence catapulting Charlie into the air. Both his arms are flung skywards and as the horse is in mid air Charlies arms are waving frantically above his head. No doubt clenching tight with his legs he remains in the saddle and somehow Charlie is able to grab the reins as they land and keeps going. Unfortunately the combination were later knocked out at the Chair.
Richard Johnson - Star Traveller - fourteenth fence 2000
If it were not for Tony McCoy Richard Johnson would have been champion jockey by now and ironically the second best jockey currently riding in the UK. In 2000 Johnson blazed the trail on Festival winner Star Traveller. Approaching the fourteenth he is unsighted by loose horses and misses the fence completely. A la Charlie Mann Johnson loses the reins and looks surely to be unseated. In another remarkable performance of self preservation he manages to grab the reins and continues. He doesn't even surrender the lead.
With a little help from my friends
Captain Andrew Parker-Bowles - The Fossa - fourth fence 1969.
The Captain is now best known for being Prince Charles' missus' ex but in 1969 the gallant Captain rode in his one and only National on Aintree stalwart The Fossa. Up with the leaders from the off they make a slight mistake at the big ditch but that was nothing compared to what they were going to do at the next fence. The Fossa hit the fence extremely hard and the Captain is catapulted over the horses head. As the camera pans through the leaders the Captain in the dark red colours is seen to be clinging to the horses head with both feet not only out of the stirrups but hanging over the horses side ! The horse has not lost any momentum and is still galloping at full speed. If you look carefully you can see Andy Turnell on Kellsboro Wood in the gold silks leaning out of the saddle with an arm outstretched. By the fifth fence the Captain and The Fossa are re-united and still in the race. Did Andy Turnell haul the Captain back onto the saddle ? I cannot be certain but in the interests of fair play and good sportsmanship I'd like to think he did.
Down but nor out
C.Chapman - Forty Secrets - fourteenth fence 1963.
I don't know anything about Mr Chapman not even his Christian name but in 1963 he rode in his only National. Riding outsider Forty Secrets he was in mid division on the outside of the field when at the fourteen fence he stumbled on landing and fell to the ground. Mr Chapman stood still, the horse got up and they continued eventually finishing twenty first of the twenty two finishers.
Update - I am grateful to Turf historian Derek Gay who tells me that Mr Chapman (who sadly died in 2007) was called Clive. He was also an actor and was the jockey in the famous Hamlet Cigar advert of the seventies.
Graham Thorner - Tamalin - Second Bechers 1978
In 1978 ex-England cricket captain and avid racing fan Ted Dexter sponsored an award for the best riding performance apart from the winner. I am not aware that any similar award has been given since but Thorner was a very worthy winner as he "fell at the fence and indeed was called a faller by the commentato. Somehow despite all four legs scraping the turf, Thorner stays in the saddle and despite being pitched up over the horses head the combination survive and go on to complete the course. Thorner won a state of the art video recorder valued at £700 (1978 prices).
Brendan Powell - Rhyme'n" Reason - First Bechers 1988
There have been numerous cases of horses being caught out by the drop at Bechers. Honorourable mention should go to Royal trainer Nicky Henderson on Indian Diva in 1976, Irish amateur John Quealley on Our Cloud in 1985 and Carl Llewellyn on former winner Bindaree in 2003. All were down on their noses at the fence but got up and survived. However, Brendan Powell's recovery on Rhyme 'n' Reason is incredible as after they had effectively fallen at Bechers first time (having had his hind quarters give way on landing) and been left stone last by the seventh fence they steadily made up ground to actually win the race. There have been National winners in the past who have made mistakes but none have survived such a monumental blunder
A "Rookie" Mistake
Robert Dunne - Vics Canvas 2016
Maybe it`s because they "don`t make the fences like they used to" that we have not had many great recoveries in recent years but in what was a classic Grand National in 2016 we saw the best recovery of the modern era. Robert Dunne in his first National on veteran Vics Charm (who was also making his National debut at the age of thirteen) stumbled on landing having taken Bechers too steeply. The horses nose grazed the turf and as the horse recovered Dunne was pitched to one side and looked as if he was going to be ejected. Somehow he managed to cling onto the horses neck and regain his balance and amazingly some seven minutes later he was fighting out the finish to finish a very honourable third.
Since 1960 forty seven jockeys have won the National. Of those, fourteen won the race at their first attempt - Bobby Beasley (1961), Mr Tommy Smith (1965), Tim Norman (1966), John Buckingham (1967), Maurice Barnes (1979), Mr Dick Saunders (1982), Jimmy Frost (1989), Nigel Hawke (1991), Jason Titley (1995) Ruby Walsh (2000), Niall Madden (2006), Liam Treadwell (2009), Ryan Mania (2013) & David Mullins (2016)
Note : Tommy Smith and Dick Saunders won on their only ride
Thirteen won the race at the second time of asking - Gerry Scott (1960), Pat Buckley (1963), Brian Fletcher (1969), Graham Thorner (1972), Charlie Fenwick (1980), Richard Dunwoody (1986), Steve Knight (1987), Brendan Powell (1988), Marcus Armytage (1990), Mick Fitzgerald (1996), Tony Dobbin (1997), Graham Lee (2004) & Robbie Power (2007)
Of our twenty one remaining heroes, two, Fred Winter (1962) and Pat Taaffe (1970) had already won one in the fifties whilst the others took a little longer to add their names to the roll of honour......
Third attempt - Johnny Cook (1971), John Burke (1976), Ben de Haan (1983), Neal Doughty (1984), Carl Llewellyn (1992)
Fourth attempt - Bob Davies (1978), Hywel Davies (1985), Jim Culloty (2002), Barry Geraghty (2003)
Fifth attempt - Paul Carberry (1999), Daryl Jacob (2012)
Sixth attempt - Willie Robinson (1964), Tommy Stack (1977)
Seventh attempt - Leighton Aspell (2014), Richard Guest (2001)
Ninth attempt - Bob Champion (1981)
Eleventh attempt - Tommy Carberry (1975)
Twelfth attempt - Timmy Murphy (2008)
And finally ...he shattered every record during his career and here is one that he probably won`t now care too much about. At a record fifteenth attempt twenty times champion Tony McCoy finally won the National in 2010