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A Brief History of the Grand National’s Biggest Stories

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The Grand National is held every year at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. Since its inauguration 1839, it has been the most important racing meet in the calendar. It is currently the most valuable jump race in Europe, with the prize fund in 2017 being £1million. An estimated 500 million to 600 million people in the world tune in each time to watch the event. It is also unique in its physical course because it still contains some of the largest fences and drops on the professional horse racing scene, despite aspects of the course having gone through change to improve safety for both horse and jockey.

With hundreds of millions of people watching each year, you would expect the race to involve some drama to get so many interested. For, the Grand National is also known as the horse race that even people with little interest in the sport normally will bet on and watch. Well, this is just the briefest of rundowns of some of the high drama, excitement and controversy that the Grand National has offered up over the years.

Tipperary Tim, the last standing (1928)

As unbelievable as this sounds, 1928’s Grand National was a notable one because 41 out of the 42 horses and riders fell and did not complete the race, leaving the winner, Tipperary Tim, being the only horse who did complete the race.

As unbelievable as this also may sound, that last fact is not even the most unbelievable part of the story. For, so it goes, just before the beginning of the race, William Hutton, a friend of the amateur jockey of Tipperary Tim, shouted these words: ‘Billy boy, you'll only win if all the others fall!’

Well, misty wet conditions, very heavy going, and a few major pile ups with jockeys falling from horses at some of the jumps, meant that these joking words may as well have been a prophesy.

Red Rum’s Hat trick (1970s)

Red Rum remains the only horse in Grand National history to have won the race three times. Achieve wins in 1973, 1974, and 1977. And, what is more, Red Rum finished second in the two intervening years on this amazing run, so it really is pretty good going!

In 1973 in particular, Red Rum’s win necessitated a huge comeback. The horse was sitting in second at the final fence, a substantial 15 lengths trailing behind the top spot. However, despite the gap, Red Rum made up the ground and got ahead 2 yards from the finish to win by three quarters of a length to break what was then the record. Red Rum’s time would go on to be unbeaten for 17 years.

Bob Champion and Aldaniti (1981)

It is well established now that there are some dubious aspects to the Grand National in terms of ethics. Especially when it comes to the safety of horses. It is nice then to think back to a more edifying story of the 1981 race. Both the jockey and the horse themselves overcame illness and ill circumstance to achieve the win together.

Bob Champion was diagnosed with cancer and was given only a couple of months to live. But, against the odds, he recovered, meaning that he could ride in the 1981 Grand National. He rode the horse named Aldaniti, who was also an outsider. The horse was deprived of care in its youth and had only just recovered from its own chronic leg problems.

The Race That Never Was (1993)

Strangely, one of the most well-known Grand National races was one which, in terms of not having any valid results, didn’t really happen!

There was a false start (which is never a good start) and then things only got worse. At the false start, many horses got tangled in the tape. On the second start, they were tangled once again. However, when the flag should have been waved to indicate the second false start, it was not visible.

Some of the horses went on and some stopped. Some did not start. But at the finish, it was said to be an invalid race. Thus, in the most crucial sense, the race did not happen.


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