Aintree Greats - Richard Pitman on Crisp
Aintree Greats - Richard Pitman on Crisp

Grand National memories: Richard Pitman on Crisp v Red Rum

The story of Crisp and the 1973 Grand National

Richard Pitman has his own place in Grand National folklore.

He never rode the winner. But he enjoyed probably the greatest and most famous ride over the then fearsome fences.

He finished second on Crisp in the 1973 renewal, beaten by Red Rum.

He went into the race aboard the Australian import after winning the Champion Chase at Cheltenham after proving himself the leading chaser in his homeland.

He was a prodigious talent but carrying top weight and stepping up significantly in trip at Aintree.

Let Richard take you through the race.

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“I’m quite embarrassed that people still want to talk about it, all these years later. Youngsters who hadn’t seen it are amazed by the bold jumping, front-running tactics from the ‘black kangaroo’ from Australia.

“People love to bear bait me about the awful things I did wrong - I will only admit to one of them - but it’s still alive, that race. I live for the National. I haven’t missed it since I first rode in it in 1967 either as a jockey, or working for the BBC, and it’s a race that keeps me going.

“If Crisp had won it would have been a fantastic story but Red Rum went on to be such a good horse. We beat him, you know, at Doncaster the next season in a match race, carrying 12 stone each. We won by eight lengths, but then poor old Crisp got a leg (injury).

“Going into the 1973 National the trip was such an unknown, we were going into a fog. How would anyone know if we were going to stay? These days the course is slightly easier and the ground hasn’t been heavy for years and you get a mass of horses completing which I’m pleased about.

“I thought if I can hang onto him for long enough he has so much class that it will take a very good horse to beat him. I rode for a sporting stable, never had a bet in my life, but I heard at the start Michael O'Hehir on the Public Address system saying Red Rum had been backed into joint-favouritism.

“It’s amazing what you pick up and I thought that’s interesting so I had a look at him and thought well he’s seven inches shorter than us but he’s robust and a good little horse, so I’ll keep my eye on him.

“Well I didn’t keep my eye on anything. I jumped off in front on the inside, Grey Sombrero was up with me but on the complete outside so I wasn’t away from the field straight away. We were miles apart and when Crisp jumped the first I felt fine – he loved it. You get the feel straight away whether they’re going to take to it.

“I couldn’t wait for the next fence and when we got to Becher’s for the first time I looked over to Bill Shoemark on Grey Sombrero and shouted out ‘how are you going Bill?’

“He looked over mouthed something back – he didn’t say anything. There was me riding an armchair and he was really concentrating on the fence.

Classic Grand National No. 1 - Red Rum (1973)

“After the Chair and I heard on the PA that Grey Sombrero and fallen but I couldn’t hear another horse, nothing. The crowd were roaring as I was joint favourite but when I went out on the second circuit it was odd. It was quiet. Usually it’s noisy as you’re among horses and they’re exhaling and jockeys are shouting but there was nothing and I turned away to the first fence and could see a few holes in the fence where horses had bashed it.

“Then I passed a few jockeys who had fallen and were watching the race leaning against the rail then I passed one holding a bridle too. It was eerie, no sound, and lolloped round to Becher’s Brook and I heard Michael O'Hehir again. In those days there were big crowds at the fence, but I heard Michael say ‘…and Dick Pitman and Crisp are 25 lengths clear with Brian Fletcher kicking Red Rum out of the pack’. And I thought, that’ll do me.

“If he’s kicking and I’m running away then wow wee. The thrill of jumping Becher’s on him was incredible. He landed so far out he didn’t nod on landing as so many horses did because of the 12 foot 9inch drop.

“Then there was David Nicholson between Becher’s and Foinavon, his horse picking grass, and he said ‘Richard, you’re actually 33 and a half lengths clear, kick on you’ll win’. I thought no, that’s the one thing I won’t do. Stamina is key, hold him, hold him, hold him.

“On the second circuit you can see the grandstand from a long way out and I could hear no horse at all. We crossed the Melling Road and Crisp was still pulling and couldn’t get enough of the race.

“But then when we got the second last his legs, instead of going out in front of him, were slightly going out sideways which is the first sign of tiredness.

“Even his ears lost their strength and went down. When you lose the strength in the ears you’ve got to the bottom of the barrel.

“I was starting to slow down and for the first time heard Red Rum, even though I was still clear. It was firm ground and I heard the drum-drum, drum-drum of his hooves.

“He was a high blower, as he exhaled his nostrils flapped and I heard that too. I knew he was coming, it was getting louder. It’s like when we’re kids and have nightmares of running through treacle trying to get away from some horrible person and I knew he was closing.

“We jumped the last OK and the only error I’ll admit to came then. I thought I had to wake him up and gave him a tap with the whip in the right hand. He was 17 hands 2, a huge horse, and when I took my hand of the reigns he fell away from he. I should have kept hold of his head, kept him balanced and got to the Elbow.

JOCKEY CAM: On board with Bristol de Mai and Daryl Jacob as they prepare for the Grand National

“It was a basic error and as he fell away left handed, when I wanted to go right, by the time I’d straightened him up I lost two-and-a-half lengths. In the end I was beaten three-quarters of a length.

“I got him back on course and got to The Elbow where he had a rail to lean on but I could hear Red Rum and Fletcher getting louder and louder. Brian was very clever – he challenged wide because he could see I was out on my feet but if he came close the instinct of a racehorse is to find a bit more when challenged.

“It was only in the final two strides he got to me, two strides from the post. Poor old Crisp gave his all and I went from possible elation to desolation within those two strides. It didn’t last very long, by the time I pulled up, to get the elation back.

“I’m not a McCoy, Scudamore, Francome or Dunwoody who were tunnel vision champion jockeys. I was a happy chappy who loved ridding and I’d just had the ride of my life, something money couldn’t buy. I’d been beaten in the National but was delighted because I had such great ride. It was an amazing roller-coaster of emotions.”

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