The Grand National, the world’s most famous horse race has thrown up extraordinary stories, from the romantic to the bizarre. Julian Seaman finds some of the oddest.
1. Aintree, where the race is held, is named after a Viking settlement where all the trees were cut down apart from one: Ain Tree.
2. The race was started by publican William Lynn of the Waterloo Hotel, Liverpool. He later set up the coursing Waterloo Cup to drum up business.
3. In 1839, the country’s best-known cross-country rider Martin Becher was disputing the lead when his horse, Conrad, put on the brakes at the first brook. Capt Becher sploshed into the ditch and remarked that water tasted better with brandy.
4. Lottery, the winner of the first race, ended his days pulling a cart in Neasden, North London
The course has included stone walls, hurdles, banks and hedges; in the early days of the race, there was a practice hurdle on the way to the start.
5. In 1855, jockey Sam Darling was knocked out in a fall but a kick in the head from a following horse revived him.
6. In 1862, Irish jockey James Wynne was told his sister had died on the morning of the race. His owner suggested he went home, but he insisted on taking part, only to die from a fall.
7. The most starters to set off were 66 in 1929; now numbers are capped at 40.
8. The Lamb, one of only two greys to win, did so in 1868 with amateur George Ede, who was killed in a race two years later. The Lamb’s owner, Lord Poulett, had a dream that his horse would win again, this time with another top amateur, Tommy Pickernell. He booked the rider and swore him to secrecy about his dream. They won.
9. After his second win, The Lamb had much of his tail hacked off by souvenir hunters as he made his way back to the winner’s enclosure.
10. In 1882, Lord Manners won on Seaman. The next year Count Charles Kinsky won on Zoedone. Professional rider Jimmy Adams remarked: ‘Last year it was a blooming Lord won the National; this year it’s an effing count and next year it will be an old woman, most likely. The Count countered: ‘Yes Jimmy, and I hope this old woman will be yourself’.
11. Ambrose Gorham, a bookmaker and owner of the 1902 winner, Shannon Lass, left the whole Sussex village of Telscombe to the Brighton Corporation with the following stipulation: ‘I direct the Corporation shall prefer a man who is a sportsman and not a total abstainer from alcohol and tobacco’. Having revived the village as a racehorse-training centre, he is said to have given all the children a pair of Wellington boots and a book at Christmas.
12. In 1911, the only horse not to part company with his jockey was the one-eyed Glenside with Jack Anthony on top. For once the old adage ‘There are fools, damn fools and men who remount in steeplechases.’ was proved wrong.
13. There have been many theories for the Devon Loch disaster in 1956—when the Queen Mother’s horse, ridden by Dick Francis, sprawled just in front of the winning post, but writer Graham Lord suggests that a too tight girth led to intestinal wind that blew the horse off its feet.
14. Most racehorses take their name from their sire and dam; one by Quorum out of Mared did quite well (Red Rum).
15. The Foinavon fence (the one after Becher’s) is so named because a 100-1 shot called Foinavon emerged from the chaotic pile-up there to win the race.
16. In 1947, a Major Skrine, who wanted to ride his own Martin M in 1the race, had one of his legs surgically shortened to match the one that had been injured in the war. He got round.
17. Irish jockey Pat Taaffe won the race twice. His rides were called Quare Times and Gay Trip.
18. The Olympic showjumping gold medallist Sir Harry Llewellyn came second in 1936 on Ego.
19. In 1993, the race was declared void after a shambolic start, but officials failed to stop some jockeys and a small group completed to the bitter end when the triumphant expression on ‘winning’ jockey John White’s face was replaced by a look of horror .
20. When there was a bomb scare in 1997 and the course had to be evacuated (the race was eventually run on the Monday), one quick-thinking Tote worker stuffed £7,000 into her underwear for safekeeping.
21. The sporting Duke of Alberquerque had the last of his several National rides at the age of 57, by which time he had broken 22 bones and suffered 107 fractures.
22. The oldest rider to complete the race was 68-year-old Tim Durant, a stunt rider for Westerns. The oldest winner was 48-year-old amateur Dick Saunders.
23. The 1994 winner, Minnehoma, was owned by the Liverpudlian singer Freddie Starr.
24. Aldaniti, famously a winner in 1981 with the cancer survivor Bob Champion, was bred by Thomas Barron: his grandchildren’s names are Alastair, David, Nicola and Timothy.
Julian Seaman is the author of The Little Book of The Grand National (Little Books, £9.99). The Grand National takes place on April 11, 2015.