Since its first running in 1839, it has taken two World Wars to prevent the Aintree Grand National taking place, but Covid-19 has proved equal to the task as today should be another renewal of the great race.
A bomb scare came perilously close to having the same effect, when the 1997 National had to be abandoned, only to be rescheduled for the following Monday.
It is only 1993 since last there was no winner of the race but that was due to a false start and the failure to prevent many of the runners completing the course. Unfortunately, 2020 will be added to that list, but here we look back at a few of the many memorable Grand Nationals of the last 40 years.
Jenny Pitman is a formidable lady and was a brilliant racehorse trainer who paved the way for the future successes of Venetia Williams, Sue Smith and Lucinda Russell when becoming the first lady to train the winner of the Aintree Grand National, doing so with Corbiere in 1983, and again in 1995 with Royal Athlete. Pitman also saddled Esha Ness, who was first past the post in the 1993 renewal, which was subsequently void.
Ben de Haan, riding Corbiere, a handsome chestnut with a big white blaze, took what was the brave route along the inside, back in a time when taking that line over Becher’s Brook was akin to jumping into the Grand Canyon. De Haan hailed a cab jumping the fence on the first circuit but, in the main, his willing partner made the then sizable fences look most manageable.
In one of those great renewals, where the winner was clear at the elbow but all out to hold a rallying rival at the line, Corbiere held off the Dermot Weld-trained Greasepaint, the pair a long way clear, with the following year’s winner, Hallo Dandy, in fourth place, and the previous year’s winner, Grittar, in fifth.
There was a time when amateur riders winning the National were not uncommon, but times have moved on and racing become far more commercialised, and this year marks the 30th anniversary of Marcus Armytage becoming the last amateur rider to add his name to the roll of honour, which he did aboard the Kim Bailey-trained Mr Frisk.
Abundantly clear to see throughout the race thanks to the green and red quartered body, bright yellow sleeves and red cap of his owner, Mrs Lois Duffey, he had a real tussle with Durham Edition - one of those fine Grand National competitors never to win the race – but prevailed by three parts of a length.
The 11-year-old recorded what the fastest time ever posted in the race and will remain so as the trip has since been shortened, and that renewal was the last time the race was run on ground described as firm.
The 1999 National was remarkable for many reasons. Tommy Carberry became the fifth person to train the winner of the great race having also won it as a jockey. In doing so with Bobbyjo, he ended a drought of 24 years for Irish-trained winners of the race, the previous one being L’Escargot, which Carberry rode for Dan Moore.
Bobbyjo, who won the 1998 Irish Grand National, was ridden by Tommy’s son, Paul, and that father-and-son trainer-jockey feat would be emulated just 12 months later when Ted and Ruby Walsh combined to win the race with Papillon.
In stark contrast to Mr Frisk’s Grand National, the ground was heavy in 2001 when Red Marauder landed the feature for trainer Norman Mason. So testing were the conditions, in fact, only two horses managed to complete the horse without mishap.
There were two other finishers – the Tony McCoy-ridden Blowing Wind and the Ruby Walsh-ridden Papillon – but the former refused and had to be remounted, and the latter fell and was remounted. Red Marauder’s round of jumping wasn’t without its mistakes, but Richard Guest’s mount coped best with the conditions and race home 30 lengths clear of his nearest pursuer, Smarty. The winning time was more than two minutes slower than Mr Frisk’s record.
2001 was also the year future champion Flat jockey Jim Crowley rode in the race – though he got no further than the first fence aboard 150-1 chance Art Prince. Trainer Martin Pipe broke record after record as a trainer but won this race only once, with Miinnehoma, in 1994. In 2001, he saddled 10 of the 40 runners, the best of which was the remounted and third-placed Blowing Wind.
Rule The World was a fine hurdler, winning five time and finishing runner-up to The New One in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in just 11 starts over the smaller obstacles. However, his chasing career took a little longer to warm up and he was, essentially, quite frustrating prior to running in the 2016 Grand National.
A 13-race maiden over the larger obstacles heading to Aintree, he righted that wrong in no uncertain terms as he stayed on strongly to pull clear in the hands of David Mullins to easily account for the well-handicapped The Last Samuri. It was a memorable season for winning trainer Mouse Morris, who also won the Irish Grand National, with Rogue Angel.