Timeform’s chase handicapper Phil Turner rovides a fence-by-fence guide to the Grand National and details where the drama has happened over the years.
FIRST – The traditional cavalry charge to the first has meant this fence claims more fallers than any other obstacle on the Grand National course, with speed the main contributing factor in several pile-up there down the years. Indeed, even Grand National winners Gay Trip, Aldaniti and Hallo Dandy got no further than the first fence 12 months on from their biggest success. In 1951 a third of the field – 12 of the 36 runners – crashed out at the first.
The tape was released when half the field weren't ready, which resulted in a mad dash to recover the lost ground. In 2013 the start was moved forward by around 90 yards to bring the runners further away from the grandstands in a bid to create a more controlled environment.
SECOND – Mick Fitzgerald provided one of the great sporting one-liners after winning on Rough Quest in 1996 – ‘better than sex’ – but the race also had a darker side for him, a fall at the second from L’Ami in 2008 resulted in a neck fracture which ended the jockey’s career.
THIRD – The first big ditch regularly catches out a few, including 1977 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Davy Lad, who was one of four to exit the race there that year.
FOURTH – Corbiere was an Aintree specialist during the 1980s, winning the race in 1983 (with Jenny Pitman becoming the National’s first successful woman trainer) before finishing a fine third in the next two renewals. However, the popular chestnut got no further than the fourth in 1986 due to an extremely rare jumping lapse.
FIFTH – Ted Walsh has provided memorable National moments for both his son Ruby and daughter Katie, saddling the Ruby-ridden Papillon to victory and Seabass to a fine third under the latter in 2012. His own experience of the Aintree fences was less happy, however, with Castleruddery refusing at the fifth in 1975 on Walsh Senior’s only National ride. Walsh will be represented in this year’s race by Any Second Now, who is prominent in the market after warming up with a win in the Webster Cup at Navan last month.
FIRST BECHER’S – Although not quite the fearsome fence of old, particularly now the drop on landing is much less severe, first Becher’s can still cause its share of problems. One such example was in 2004, when 2002 winner Bindaree was one of nine horses forced out of the race in a melee there. The drop towards the inside was significantly larger than on the outer, but Fred Winter went up the inner when riding his two winners and used to instruct his jockeys to do the same when he became a trainer.
Going wide didn’t prevent Rhyme N’Reason from nearly falling in 1988. Had Betfair been around he probably would have traded at 1000 in running after slithering on landing and effectively coming to a standstill, but he worked his way back into contention and registered a remarkable success.
SEVENTH – Big-spending American owner Raymond Guest enjoyed plenty of big-race success (including Derby wins with Larkspur and Sir Ivor), but it took an agonisingly long time for him to achieve his lifetime ambition of winning the Grand National - L’Escargot finally ended the wait in 1975, though gave his owner a major scare when nearly unseating Tommy Carberry at the seventh.
FIRST CANAL TURN – Often a traffic hotspot and the scene of two of the biggest pile-ups in Grand National history, namely in 1928 and 2001. Leading chaser Easter Hero was the cause of the former incident, causing mayhem when getting stuck in the then-open ditch (it has been a plain fence ever since), whilst the riderless Paddy’s Return (who’d unseated at the third) was to blame 73 years later, wiping out half the field when veering across the take-off side into their path.
FIRST VALENTINE’S – Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run was one of three leaders who crashed out here in 2014, all of them possibly caught out by the fence upon straightening up from the Canal Turn.
TENTH – The 12-year-old Royal Athlete barely touched a twig when cruising to a surprise 40/1 success in 1995, but he’d crashed out at the tenth when among the favourites for the infamous void renewal two years earlier.
ELEVENTH – Golden Miller is still the only horse to have completed the Cheltenham Gold Cup-Grand National double (in 1934) during the same season. As a result, he was sent off at just 2/1 12 months later – the shortest-priced favourite in National history – but got no further than the eleventh, when he unseated in a soft-looking incident. Jockey Gerry Wilson was accused of jumping off in some circles and duly lost the ride but always protested his innocence, claiming something had spooked Golden Miller into making such an awkward upright leap. Subsequent events rather vindicated this view, as Golden Miller uncharacteristically refused at the eleventh in both 1936 and 1937!
TWELFTH –The first Saturday National in 1947 took place in thick fog, and the jockey of the runner-up claimed that the 100/1 winner Caughoo had been pulled up after the twelfth and had rejoined the field on the second circuit. The matter even went to court – it was dismissed – and the winning rider, Eddie Dempsey, later sold his 'story' to the tabloids after running into financial difficulties, claiming to have hidden behind a haystack.
However, photographic evidence showed that Caughoo had gone out onto the second circuit and completed the correct course. He was simply much fitter than his rivals having been trained on a beach in Ireland during one of the worst winters on record when most of his rivals wouldn't have done as much work. Record-breaking champion jockey Tony McCoy began his Grand National adventure in 1995 (aged just 20) aboard the Martin Pipe-trained outsider Chatham, who crashed out at the twelfth when still towards the rear.
THIRTEENTH – Eccentric Spanish nobleman Beltrán Alfonso Osorio y Díez de Rivera, better known on these shores as the 18th Duke of Alburquerque, became obsessed with his ultimately futile attempts to win the Grand National over three decades. Alas, the gallant amateur became far more acquainted with Walton General Hospital than Aintree’s Winners’ Enclosure during this period and he ended up there again in 1976, when a fall from Nereo at the thirteenth left him in a coma for two days - his fractures from the incident included multiple broken ribs and vertebrae, a snapped wrist and a broken thigh. The 57-year-old was prevented from riding in the race again on medical grounds.
FOURTEENTH – Beau was one of the chief hard-luck stories of the bizarre 2001 renewal, looking the likely winner when unseating Carl Llewellyn due to tack issues. Alas, the pair endured another soft exit 12 months later, Llewellyn coming out the side door after his sound-jumping partner had pecked on landing at the fourteenth.
THE CHAIR – Historically the biggest fence on the course, though the pile-up there in 1979 owed more to loose horses than the demands of its massive ditch. Nine horses exited the race in total, most of them having been brought down, a luckless group which included US raider Ben Nevis (who returned 12 months later to win at nearly three times his odds in 1979!). The charity now known as the Injured Jockeys’ Fund launched in the wake of injuries sustained by Paddy Farrell after a fall at The Chair in the 1964 National.
WATER JUMP – Foinavon, of course, is just about the most fortunate horse in Grand National history, but he had his own Aintree hard-luck story 12 months on from that fluke 100/1 success in 1967. A 66/1 shot in 1968, Foinavon was much closer to the pace than might have been expected when he was brought down in a melee at the Water Jump.
17TH – Crisp wasn’t the only bold-jumping front runner to build up a huge early lead during the 1970s. Indeed, headstrong outsider Boom Docker was even further ahead at halfway in 1977 than Crisp had been four years earlier, only to inexplicably refuse at the seventeenth when still holding an advantage of some 35 lengths!
18TH – Multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls has saddled many a fancied National runner during his present career, but 150/1 and 200/1 were the SPs for his two rides in the race – Roman Bistro lasted longest of the pair, refusing at the eighteenth in 1985. Nicholls sent out Neptune Collonges to register a narrow victory in 2012 and could be represented this year by Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper
19TH – Loose horses caused havoc at the nineteenth in 2001, causing Blowing Wind, 2000 winner Papillon and Aintree regular Brave Highlander to refuse through no fault of their own. The first two-named were remounted to finish third and fourth respectively.
20TH – An unwanted piece of Grand National history occurred here in 2011, as the 20th became the first fence ever to be omitted due to a stricken horse (second Becher’s was also missed out this year).
21ST – 1976 Grand National hero Rag Trade was pulled up at the twenty-first when favourite for the race two years later, sadly breaking down so badly it proved to be his final race.
SECOND BECHER’S – The biggest turning point in Grand Nationals habitually occur at Second Becher’s, with names such as Beau Bob (1971), Golden Rapper (1976), Andy Pandy (1977), West Tip (1985), Strands of Gold (1988), Uncle Merlin (1990), Clan Royal (2005), Bewleys Berry (2007) and Black Apalachi (2009) just some of those who’ve departed at this stage when travelling strongly at the head of affairs.
23RD – The most famous pile-up in horseracing history occurred here in 1967, when one of the backmarkers Foinavon took advantage of the mayhem happening in front of him and inherited a massive lead by clearing the fence at the first attempt, holding on thereafter to claim a shock 100/1 success. The fence is now named in his honour. Foinavon was named after a Scottish mountain which is sandwiched by Ben Stack and Arkle. Anne Duchess of Westminster owned a holiday home in the shadow of them and named her three new horses after them (two were Cheltenham Festival winners, but Foinavon proved to be a dud – albeit a lucky one!)
SECOND CANAL TURN – The Grand National was not a lucky race for Jonjo O’Neill during his riding days, failing to complete in eight attempts despite twice partnering the favourite. The second Canal Turn was the furthest he got thanks to Sir Garnet in 1977, only for O’Neill to be “knocked clean out of the saddle by another horse!” O’Neill has managed a win as a trainer with Don’t Push It in 2010, and he is responsible for this year’s favourite, Cloth Cap.
SECOND VALENTINE’S – Leighton Aspell claimed back-to-back wins with Pineau de Re and Many Clouds, but he might have already been on the National scoresheet by then had Ballycassidy stood up in 2006 – the outsider was still some seven lengths clear when taking an X-rated fall at Second Valentine’s.
FIVE OUT – One of the smallest fences on the course, but it produced just about the only mistake by Red Rum (en route to victory in 1974) during his five attempts at the race, whilst the closest Tiger Roll came to falling was at this fence in 2019. Rondetto (1965), Little Polveir (1988) and The Druids Nephew (2015) all departed at the same fence when going strongly in the lead.
FOUR OUT – The 1977 Grand National will forever be associated with Red Rum’s record-breaking third win, but the other major news story of that renewal centred around Charlotte Brew, who was the first woman to compete in the race. Her mount Barony Fort eventually refused at the fourth last having trailed from an early stage (Geraldine Rees became the first woman to complete five years later). Rachael Blackmore, who was the leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month and is in contention for the Irish jockeys’ championship, is likely to ride Minella Times, who has solid claims and is prominent in the market.
THREE OUT – Portrait King outperformed unflattering odds several times over the big Aintree fences, notably when third at 66/1 in the 2017 Topham, and was still in contention when falling three out in the 2015 National – sadly, jockey Davy Condon suffered spinal concussion in the incident and retired from the saddle subsequently. Condon later took up the role of assistant trainer to Gordon Elliott, who sent out Tiger Roll to win back-to-back Nationals in 2018 and 2019.
TWO OUT – John Buckingham entered Grand National folklore when steering Foinavon to his unlikely win in 1967 and the jockey still held claims of another 100/1 National success four years later when Limeburner crashed out at the second last – he was alongside runner-up Black Secret at the time and several lengths up on eventual winner Specify.
LAST – Champion US steeplechaser Billy Barton made a bold bid in 1928 to become the first American winner of the Grand National and, in an attritional renewal, still held every chance alongside sole remaining runner Tipperary Tim (a 100/1 shot) when falling at the last. He was remounted for second. Another 100/1 shot Davy Jones was still in with a live chance of victory in 1936 only for the reins to break upon landing two out.
Despite the best efforts of his popular amateur Anthony Mildmay, the out-of-control Davy Jones ran out at the last (scattering spectators along the way) and handed victory to reigning champion Reynoldstown. The 1948 National produced a second hard-luck story for Anthony Mildmay – by then Lord Mildmay – who was a virtual passenger for the final mile (disabled by severe cramp in his neck) on eventual third Cromwell. Sadly, a similar attack of cramp was believed to have contributed to Lord Mildmay’s drowning, aged just 41, whilst swimming off the Devon coast just over two years later. Aintree’s Mildmay Course, opened in 1953, is named after him.
Hedgehunter was a last-fence faller in 2004 (when held) but he returned 12 months later to give Trevor Hemmings a first Grand National success. Hemmings, who has subsequently won with Ballabriggs and Many Clouds, is bidding for a record fourth success and has the red-hot favourite Cloth Cap carrying his colours.