Adam Houghton highlights five famous weight-carrying performances in the Grand National at Aintree.
Golden Miller was the most famous chaser in the inter-war period and he can still lay claim to two impressive feats that have not been matched in the decades since.
He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup a record-breaking five times and he is still the only horse to have completed the Gold Cup-Grand National double in the same season.
In 1934 Golden Miller, fresh from his third Gold Cup win, shouldered 12-2 to beat Delaneige (receiving 10 lb) by five lengths, with old rival Thomond II a further five back in third. A fast pace on good ground, combined with Golden Miller’s smart turn of foot, led to the course record being broken – a time that stood until Red Rum and Crisp smashed it 39 years later.
Easter Hero – another outstanding chaser in the first half of the twentieth century – deserves an honourable mention for the effort he produced to finish second in 1929.
Despite carrying the welter burden of 12-7, Easter Hero started favourite at 9/1 in a field of no fewer than 66 runners – unsurprisingly, a world record – and he led nearly all the way, only for 100/1-shot Gregalach to overhaul him between the final two fences and score by six lengths.
Gregalach went on to confirm himself a top-class chaser and ran in five more Grand Nationals, in all of which he shouldered 12-0 or more. His final Aintree appearance came when seventh as a 12-year-old in 1934, when he headed the weights on 12-7, followed by Thomond II (who had won the Becher Chase from Gregalach in November) on 12-4 and the winner Golden Miller on 12-2.
Red Rum may be one of the most popular horses of all time, but he began his Grand National career in 1973 occupying the role of the villain, getting up close home to inflict a heart-breaking defeat on the bold-jumping, front-runner Crisp, who’d been well clear for most of the way only to wilt on the long run-in under top weight of 12-0.
It was a classic renewal of the Aintree showpiece, not to mention one of the most hotly debated races of all time, with many people left wondering what the outcome might have been had Crisp’s jockey, Richard Pitman, had done things differently.
Pitman, speaking to Cornelius Lysaght in an interview on the Sporting Life, said: “We jumped the last okay 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 off the reins he fell away from me. I should have kept hold of his head, kept him balanced and got to the Elbow.
“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.”
Red Rum stayed on relentlessly and took the spoils by three quarters of a length, with the pair finishing 25 lengths clear of the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner (and 1975 National hero) L’Escargot.
Crisp produced a top-class performance in failing so narrowly to concede 23 lb to the winner, and, whilst offering little consolation to his connections, the Timeform rating of 173 he achieved in defeat has not subsequently been surpassed in the race.
Red Rum himself defied top-weight of 12-0 when making it back-to-back Grand National wins in 1974, producing just about the best performance of his career to beat L’Escargot by seven lengths. He also filled the runner-up spot in the next two renewals before winning again as a 12-year-old in 1977, when becoming the last top weight to win the National.
He was equally effective on park courses during the peak years of his career, too, and the highest Timeform rating he achieved was 166, a figure he was awarded after winning six of his 10 starts in the 1973/74 season. His Grand National success wasn’t his only top-class performance of that campaign, either, as he ran to a similar level when carrying 11-13 (including a 6-lb penalty for Aintree) to victory in the Scottish equivalent at Ayr.
Red Rum’s three victories in the Grand National were without precedent, and his record of never being out of the first two in five successive editions reveals a degree of domination unmatched by any other horse in the history of the race, an achievement made more meritorious given the quality of opposition he often faced at Aintree.
The 1998 Grand National won by Earth Summit was one of the most gruelling renewals of the race in recent memory, with the obvious exception of Red Marauder’s success in 2001.
Nevertheless, the better runners still came to the fore, with the only two in the handicap to finish coming home a distance clear of anything else, Earth Summit relishing the increased emphasis on stamina to win by 11 lengths.
Suny Bay filled the runner-up spot for the second year in succession (behind Lord Gyllene from a 26 lb lower mark in 1997) and was given a brilliant ride by Graham Bradley, who conserved every ounce of energy to give his horse every chance under the conditions. Well back early on, he made headway at the thirteenth but wasn’t really put in the race until after second Becher's, travelling well alongside the winner crossing the Melling Road but not as strong as him from the second last.
Suny Bay’s performance under 12-0 was the best in the race since Crisp 25 years earlier, with a Timeform rating of 171 identifying it as the best of the modern era. He returned to contest both the next two renewals of the Grand National, but finished tailed off each time.
There have been several notable weight-carrying performances in the Grand National this century. The 2005 winner Hedgehunter achieved a Timeform rating of 166 when beaten only six lengths into second by Numbersixvalverde under 11-12 the following year, while Neptune Collonges ran to the same level when successful under 11-6 in 2012, digging deep to defy a BHA mark of 157 by a nose from Sunnyhillboy.
Particular praise is reserved for Many Clouds, who carried more weight (11-9) to victory than any other Grand National hero since Red Rum when landing the 2015 renewal. Oliver Sherwood’s charge was sent off at 25/1 after disappointing slightly on his previous start in the Gold Cup, but he had been most progressive prior to that (won the Hennessy earlier in the season) and got back on the up to inflict a four-length defeat on Saint Are, making light of a BHA mark of 160 in typically determined fashion.
That effort suggested Many Clouds had a good chance of emulating Red Rum's back-to-back Grand National wins but he reportedly suffered from a breathing problem when well beaten the following year, whilst his tragic death at Cheltenham in January 2017 denied him a third tilt at the Aintree showpiece.
We didn’t have to wait long for a dual Grand National winner to arrive on the scene, though. Tiger Roll only just held on when recording his first Aintree success in 2018, but he could hardly have been more impressive when repeating the dose from a 9 lb higher mark the following year, winning readily under a weight of 11-5 and running to a Timeform rating of 165 in the process.