Grand National Anorak

The Greatest Grand National of them all 1974-

Of course this site is subjective. All the lists compiled are made up of my opinions and this is clearly the most biased list of them all. There is of course no such thing as a "bad" Grand National. Each brave horse and rider who tackle the Aintree fences deserve our greatest respect and I salute every one of them. However, we all have our favourites and here is my list of my greatest Grand Nationals of all time. When I say "all time" I mean from 1974 onwards as this is the year that I (aged seven) watched the race for the first time. I feel that I cannot include Nationals before this as part of my criteria for a "great" Grand National is the way the race made me feel at the time. Specify" s National in 1971, for example is a great race, one of the best, but I didn't see the race in its entirety until 1997. The feelings I  have for the race are completely out of context with the race when it was originally run. If you can make sense out of that please enjoy this list and let me know your views

(UPDATE 2017) - I recently watched them all again and have slightly revised the list - no change at the top though)

1. 1988 - Rhyme 'n" Reason

I don't know what it is about this race that makes it my favourite National of all time. Perhaps it is the feeling of optimism that Aintree is back in business, the crowds are returning in their thousands with the Embankment and other enclosures packed to capacity. Maybe it is because the race was won by a top class horse, a winner of an Irish Grand National and a Racing Post Chase who was considered Gold Cup material. It could possibly be the circumstances in which I first saw the race (at three o'clock the following morning). I had successfully avoided knowing the result despite having spent the day working in London and had then gone to a birthday party that night. Everyone knew the result and also knew that I hadn't yet seen the race. Even when I was asked at the end of the party who I wanted to win and had replied "anything but Rhyme 'n' Reason", (I'd followed the horse since his Irish National win in 1985 but for some reason had not backed it for the National) nobody let on. Perhaps it is because the race falls between my two least favourite Nationals. Or it is because we have an action packed race with no fatalities. Whatever the reason this is my favourite National and I never tire of watching it.

2. 2004 - Amberleigh House 

Hedgehunter deserved to win but we got a great story with Amberleigh House, one of the most popular winners of recent years. Twenty six years after Red Rum won his third National Ginger McCain won again with this Aintree specialist who jumped more National fences than any other modern day National runner. This is also the most exhilerating National of all time, a race where a handful of brave front runners (Hedgehunter, Clan Royal, Lord Atterbury and Puntal) take the viewer on the equivalent of a roller-coaster ride round Aintree. In my opinion this is the most exciting National of them all and one that leaves you gasping for breath at the end. There have been quicker Nationals as the record book shows but this one somehow feels the fastest.

3. 2010 - Don`t Push It 

This is the perfect National - McCoy finally wins at his fifteenth attempt - an exiting finish and no fatalities. It doesn`t really get any better than this and this is proof if any more were needed that this is the greatest race of them all.

4. 1994 - Miinnehoma

This year saw my first visit to Aintree on Grand National day with my soon to be wife at my side. When the tapes went up after a year of worrying that there would be another disaster I cheered and cheered until I was hoarse. It was probably the greatest moment of my life. (My wife backed Miinnehoma that day as well and it is her favourite National)

5. 1997 - Lord Gyllene 

I was there, standing by the parade ring. I didn't pay much attention to the alarms at first. It was in a surreal daze that I, along with thousands of others found myself being herded away from the racecourse. I ended up on the Melling Road waiting to get back in. As post time approached it occurred to me that it would be a mammoth task to get everyone back in time for the race to be run. Then the penny finally dropped. There would be no Grand National this year. I was fortunate in that I had abandoned my earlier decision to drive, returned my parking pass and had travelled to Liverpool by train. After walking for a couple of miles and flagging down a taxi my journey home was remarkably smooth. I was back in Kent by nine o'clock that night. (It was a miserable journey though). When the Monday National was announced I could scarcely believe it - the National at five in the evening ? That will never work. I couldn't get back to Aintree due to work commitments but that night after the children were in bed my wife and I opened a bottle of champagne and watched the most impressive display I have ever seen by a horse over the Aintree fences. I try to visit Aintree at least once a year but have not been back on Grand National day. It is more fun watching it at home with your loved ones.

6. Rule The world

7. 2016 - Rule The World

It took me nearly twenty years to return to Aintree on Grand National day courtesy of a wonderful Christmas present from my eldest son. Arriving at Liverpool on Grand National eve and drinking in the city centre, getting to the racecourse unfeasibly early breakfast in a cafe on the Ormskirk Road, first ones in through the gates, walking the course for the first time in years......contrary to expectations it didn't even take an age to get from the Aintree mound to the paddock. It was a superb experience and I can't wait to do it again (maybe with my youngest son in tow) As for the race ...exciting, no fatalities, close finish and another obscure winner who had never won a race over fences before. 

8. 1977 - Red Rum 

This year saw the spiritual re-birth of Aintree. It is true that the racecourse was not yet out of the woods but by transforming the meeting into an all jumping affair we saw for the first time that Aintree could stage a festival to complement Cheltenham. Grand National day 1977 is considered to be one of the greatest days in National Hunt history with the greatest of all curtain-raisers, the epic dead heat between Night Nurse and Monksfield, two of the stars of the "golden era of hurdling" in the proceeding Templegate (now Aintree) Hurdle. As for the National itself I am sure that no one seriously thought that Red Rum could come back and win a third National at the age of twelve (including me who told my teacher to back Andy Pandy) but he did so and in stunning fashion. The closing stages are the most re-played in racing history and every time I hear Peter O'Sullevans commentary I get goosebumps. Grown men wept, it was as Ginger McCain said afterwards "bloody marvellous". It should of course be the greatest National of all time but  for one reason - the death of one of my favourite horses at the time, Zetas Son at second Valentines.

9. 2013 - Aurora`s Encore

The purists won`t like me for this one - only two fallers and all still standing after seven fences. "This wasn`t a National it was just an over-hyped hurdle race". Well welcome to the twenty first century my friends. This is how it is going to be from now on and personally I would rather have a race like this (where we still had a 66-1 winner for god`s sake) than no National at all. It shows how we have changed as a society - when I first attended the National in 1994 the greatest cheer went up when it was announced that Garrison Savannah had come down at the seventeenth. In 2013 the loudest cheer came when they had all cleared Bechers safely.

10. 1990 - Mr Frisk 

It is incidental that Red Rums course record from 1973 was shattered by Mr Frisk as the race was run on dangerously fast ground. For me this race is great because after fifteen years I finally backed the winner (and the second horse Durham Edition each way). I almost skipped to the bookies to collect my winnings that afternoon.

11. 2014 - Pineau de Rea

The second of the new look Nationals and whilst we had more grief than the year before we still saw a large number of finishers and most gratifying of all no fatalities. In fact there were no fatalities over the three days of the meeting. Now that jump racing and Aintree in particular is in the worlds spotlight (for all the wrong reasons) come April this was the best two fingered salute we could send out to the t**ts at Animal Aid. Aintree has responded to the critics and come of age and the race is all the better for it. And for the first time I had not heard of the winner before the great race. The National still throws up surprises.

12. 2009 - Mon Mome 

Yes I know there were two false starts which would not have done the heart rate any good and the sight of two collapsed horses at the end of the race would not have done anything to enhance the great races` image . However, as a race this is a classic. Sixteen horses vying for the lead with two fences to go including a 200-1 rank outsider. A 100-1 winner romping away with the race and winning on merit (not relying on a crazy fluke). A former winner running the race of his life to finish second. A 200-1 shot finishing fifth . Amazing.....wonderful. Come on seriously...did you ever think you`d see another 100-1 winner ?

13. 2012 - Neptune Collonges

The greatest ever finish to a National, a superb, classy grey horse in the twilight of his career getting up on the line to win by the shortest distance short of a dead heat. Paul Nicholls finally wins with his fifty second runner. Neptune Collonges became only the third ever grey horse to win the great race. None of these wonderful achievements were celebrated of course as the racing industry turned in on itself so this site recognises this marvellous triumph.

14. 2005 - Hedgehunter

Not the best National by any means. There are others below that are better races but this race proves that God does exist. In 2004 Hedgehunter was the moral winner. He had taken to the fences so well and blazed the trail in such a breathtaking way that he deserved so much more than to be left lying in a pitifully winded state by the last fence. A year later and ridden with a little more reserve by Ruby Walsh he took the lead after Bechers second time and the result was thereafter never in doubt. There was never a more deserving winner. Watch Hedgehunter winning the 2005 National and you will feel good for the rest of the day.

15. 1974 - Red Rum

My first Grand National watched on a little black and white television in the corner of my parents house in Hastings (they still live there - I am thinking of putting a blue plaque on the wall with "Chris first watched the Grand National in this house. April 1974" inscribed) My abiding memory of that first National is not the race itself but the preliminaries and the seemingly endless parade of horses flashing past that tiny screen.

16. 2015 - Many Clouds

The third of the new style Nationals and a wonderful double for Leighton Aspell following on from his win twelve months earlier on Pineau de Re. Like Neptune Collonges before him this was a class horse who had put up a stunning display to lift the Hennessy the previous November and was on many short lists for the Gold Cup. He ran poorly at Cheltenham and I was surprised to see him line up at Aintree so having followed him all season I didn`t back him. Down the list purely for the fact that this was another National winner who was clearly exhausted after his exertions and whilst he was none the worse for the experience the sight of the winning jockey walking towards the unsaddling enclosure without his horse, saddle in hand did not do a great deal for the sports image. 

17. 2000 - Papillon 

Aintree was not a great place to be during the first two days of the meeting following five equine fatalities. To say that the disaproving eyes of the worlds non-racing media were watching Aintree on Grand National day 2000 would be an understatement. It was as if the antis were waiting for a fatality so they could condemn everything that Aintree stood for. With almost unbearable bated breath we watched the race and then ten minutes later let out a huge sigh of relief when it was announced that every one of the forty runners had returned home safe and sound. It should be remembered that Papillon was a very popular and worthy winner, a second Irish father and son triumph in as many years.

18. 1985 - Last Suspect

The last of the "old style" Nationals when Aintree was in transition having been saved by Seagram and the Jockey Club. The decrepit stands had been demolished to be replaced by temporary monsters and hospitality tents were creeping in yet the racecourse was not the corporate playground it is today. The Embankment by the first fences is relatively empty for the last time and the fences still have bite. It was also the year of the outsider with a winner so obscure you had to check your racecard to see what had won. Oh happy days.

19. 1981 - Aldaniti

Aldanitis race is like the movies of one's youth - it has not quite stood the test of time. There is something almost "cheesy" about the theme music that is pumped into our living rooms at the start of every Grand National programme (hopefully now Channel 4 have taken over broadcasting rights this can be laid to rest) and the tears of Bob Champion seem a little corny to the cynical twenty first century racegoer. Having said that, a crocked horse and a jockey past his sell by date should never have won the Grand National but they did in a breathtaking display of bold, front running jumping. It was the stuff of fairytales so they made a film about it.

20. 1975 - L'Escargot 

A race that typifies the mythical quality of the Nationals "pre-video". In those days one had to concentrate so tightly on every last detail as you knew you were not going to see the race again and would be relying on your memories. For years I searched for the "lost" pre-1983 National until one by one they came into my possession. The races are never quite how you remembered them but like the wonderful seventies clothes of the spectators lining the course this year you feel a nostalgic glow when you re-live it again.

21. 2008 - Comply or Die

A new starter and the best start for the National for several years. Timmy Murphys redemption is complete and leading jumps owner David Johnson finally lays to rest his Aintree jinx. 

22. 2007 - Silver Birch

Apart from the fiasco of the start for the second year running which saw the end of Peter Haynes as starter this is a classic National . Having spent forty minutes with my son analysing the trends and whittling the forty runners down to one "certainty" how we laughed as Point Barrow crashed out at the first ! Did anyone consider Silver Birch ? The beauty of this great race is that it can still throw up an unconsidered outsider.

23. 1983 - Corbiere

Two weeks after I had missed Grittar`s National my father got a video cassette recorder and my life changed. No longer was the National a "blink and you missed it" once a year experience. Now I could record the National and watch it as often as I liked. Corbieres National was the first to be analysed over and over again and I've continued ever since.

24. 1986 - West Tip

The year the National became "International" with the first runner from Czechoslovakia for over fifty years. I've been obsessed with their great steeplechase the Velka Pardubicka ever since.

25. 1978 - Lucius 

Whilst overshadowed by Red Rums last minute withdrawal and retirement this is one of the most exciting Nationals of all time with seven horses still in with a chance after the last fence. The first circuit is also a thrill a minute. This is one of the many Nationals that I acquired over the last seven years and is a race that has stood the test of time better than others from the same era.

26. 2003 - Montys Pass 

(UPDATE 2017) - One I really enjoyed on this latest viewing. One of the most open National for years with a number of heavily backed newcomers vying for favouritism, none of whom turned out to like the experience at all. A winner I had not heard of before who romped home in some style, the first syndicate owned National winner run by a publicity shy bingo hall owner who made a substantial sum. It had everything this one.

27. 1991 - Seagram

Having waited fifteen years to get the National winner right just like London buses two come along together. A year after celebrating Mr Frisk the gallant little Seagram, who was at the time one of my favourite horses in training continued my hundred per cent record in the nineties. Showing a hitherto untapped turn of foot from the Elbow he denied that years Gold Cup winner, the gallant Garrison Savannah who had looked to have had the race sewn up at the last. This was a most appropriate winner to end the Seagram era yet the horse mysteriously lost his form thereafter and Hawke disappeared into obscurity (although he did later train a Welsh National winner). Personally 1991 was not a good year for me and Seagram's victory brought some much needed cheer.

28. 2006 - Numbersixvalverde

Another solid, exciting National which does not come higher in the list in part for the near stroke I suffered from the false start and mainly due to Hedgehunter not winning. Why won't the handicapper allow a horse to win back-to-back Nationals ? Year after year we see former winners return ladened with weight, destroying all hopes of emulating the great dual National winners of a by-gone age. Who honestly would have begrudged Hedgehunter a second National ?

29. 1976 - Rag Trade

The first time I cut out and kept the National racecard from the paper (I still have it somewhere) and therefore the class of 76 are indelibly printed on my memory. The race marked the farewell of the legendary Duke of Alberquerque and Red Rums original jockey Brian Fletcher. Red Rum would have to wait another year for Aintree immortality but if he hadn't hit the front when he did I am convinced he would have won this year as well.

30. 1995 - Royal Athlete

Having made our first visit to the National the year before this was something of an anti-climax as my wife and I were at a friends wedding at the time and we watched a recording of the race between the church service and the reception. Over the years I have been to three weddings on Grand National day. It is still a great race though.

31. 1999 - Bobbyjo 

Memorable for giving me a fifty per cent strike rate in the Nationals of the nineties and for the most exuberant piece of jockey celebration ever seen at Aintree after the race. Bizarre fact - The paperback version of Irish champion Charlie Swan`s autobiography "Champion Charlie" has for some reason as its cover photo a shot of Paul Carberry celebrating as he passed the winning post on Bobbyjo.

32. 1996 - Rough Quest

This was one of only three Nationals that I have actually seen live on the racecourse yet with only twenty seven runners and hardly any incident during the race itself this didn't really feel like a National at all. I remember at the time the sense of anti-climax that was felt in the build up to the race. There was drama but unusually this occurred after the race with the stewards enquiry taking some of the gloss off the post race celebrations. Of course had this been any other race Rough Quest would have lost the race as he clearly interfered with the runner up Encore Un Peu on the run-in but the stewards made the right decision. Who wants to win a National by default ?

33. 1984 - Hallo Dandy 

A record twenty three finishers and a worthy winner but for me this is not one of the most memorable Nationals.

34. 2002 - Bindaree

The year the Handicapper should have been shot for allowing a horse who had never jumped a fence in the UK and a couple of very dodgy novices to get a run at the expense of horses with winning form over the unique National fences. For shame.

35. 1979 - Rubstic 

Down the list purely for the death of the Gold Cup winner Alverton at Bechers which spoilt an otherwise exciting renew 

36. 1992 - Party Politics

It must be galling for the Aintree executive so often the butt of criticism for the severity of the fences to be criticised this year for going too far the other way. This is certainly the "softest" National on record with the fences looking at their flimsiest as the class of 1992 brushed them aside with ease. I don't want to be branded a "ghoul" but the National is supposed to be as National Historian Reg Green put it, a "Race Apart". In 1992 it was just another handicap chase. I was moved to put pen to paper to criticise the then clerk of the course John Parrett for allowing the race to have gone soft. However, judging by the events a year later a "soft" National is better than no National at all and I haven't written since. UPDATE 2012 - why is it that the Nationals of the early nineties were so incident free when we have carnage now ?

37. 2001 - Red Marauder 

Aintree took a risk to run the race in barely unraceable conditions and just about got away from it. I tend to be on the Alistair Down side of the fence for this one as if there had been any fatalities in this farce of a renewal we would now be enjoying a three mile National with a maximum of twenty runners.

38. 1980 - Ben Nevis

A poor field and desperately heavy going made for one of the dullest Nationals of modern times. A very impressive winner though.

39. 1998 - Earth Summit

Despite being my most profitable National (I also backed fourth placed outsider St Mellion Fairway each-way) this was without doubt the worst field ever assembled for a modern day National. Only six horses were in the handicap proper and most of the field had no right to be in such a demanding race. To perhaps labour the point three no-hopers were killed in the early stages of the race and whilst the heavy state of the ground was blamed at the time the victims were simply horses hopelessly out of their depth.

40. 1989 - Little Polveir

Little Polveir deserved his National and his front running performance is one of my top fifteen (as seen elsewhere on this site) but apart from that there was not a lot to smile about this race. Two more deaths at Bechers Brook coming just two years after the death of Dark Ivy gave the race more adverse publicity which led to unprecedented calls in Parliament for the race to be banned unless modifications were made. Aintree listened this time and the face of the National was changed forever but further damage had been done to the great races reputation.

41. 1987 - Maori Venture 

Run on a depressingly dull day, with a field mostly comprised of very mediocre animals, the much publicised death of the popular Dark Ivy at first Bechers robbed this race of any real meaning. The images of the doomed grey were splashed over the front pages of the Sunday newspapers whilst the heroics of the races journeymen victors went largely unnoticed. The National may have been the subject of criticism before but the growing militant voices of dissent were given potent ammunition this year.

42. 1982 - Grittar

No disrespect to the heroics of Dick Saunders who became only the third man to win the National at his only attempt and was also the oldest winner to boot but this race has to come towards the bottom of the pile as it is the only Grand National I've ever missed. To be fair I was only fifteen at the time and suffering from the adolescent pangs of first love. The opportunity to take a girl to my drama club's annual trip to the theatre in Brighton was too much even if it meant missing the National. As it was the object of my affection stood me up and my abiding memories of Grittar's race is frantically trying to tune in to Radio 2 on a very bad transistor radio on the mini bus (suffice to say I failed to hear anything). I think I may have caught half the race that night on Match of the Day but it is not quite the same. I would have to wait another seventeen years before I saw this race in its entirety for the first time. I have never put a woman before the National again.

43. 2011- Ballabriggs

Well it had to happen one day...when missing a National is preferable to watching one. For me the most distressing event in this wretched race was watching a National winner close to collapse in the moments after he had crossed the line, clearly exhausted by his exertions. Had the unfortunate Ballabriggs actually collapsed as it looked as if he was going to then we would really be in trouble. As it was in all the furore over the deaths of the unfortunate Ornais & Dooneys Gate that erupted in the days after the race, the state of Ballabriggs hardly got a mention. Of course we had the expected outpouring of anger from the usual suspects (Animal Aids ultimate aim is the cessation of ALL horse racing - not just the National) but what really depressed me was the anti National sentiment in the chatrooms and blogs of the racing press. 

UPDATE 2012 - I have done this race a dis-service but then again had the Aintree executive actually had the foresight to advise the media that due to the unseasonably hot conditions that jockeys had been instructed to dismount after crossing the finish line some of us would not have been quite so forthright in our condemnation.

 

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