Talking Horses: Devon Loch bellyflop remains a mystery after 64 years | Sport

At 3.24pm on Tuesday, it will be exactly 64 years since Devon Loch performed the most famous bellyflop in sports history. We’ve all seen some glorious examples of defeat being seized from the jaws of victory but, for sheer, sudden dismay, it’s hard to beat the horse who jumped all the fences in the Grand National, battled clear on the run-in and then fell over with just yards to go for no evident reason whatsoever.

Here’s the footage one more time:

I make it seven strides that the winner, ESB, takes from the point where he passes the capsized Devon Loch to the winning post. All that work to cover four miles and all Devon Loch had to do was take another seven strides …

In all my years watching racing, I don’t think I’ve seen a single other example of a horse doing exactly what Devon Loch did, so it’s very hard to know what happened to him and why. A popular theory is that he saw the wing of the water jump in the side of his eye and thought he’d better take off at the last second.

Some reckon he was shocked by the noise of the crowd, in full throat as it anticipated victory for a horse carrying the Queen Mother’s colours. Attendance would have been a lot bigger than the modern 70,000 in those pre-health and safety days, four years before the National was first shown live on TV.

Perhaps he slipped on a false patch of ground? It was reported that a stop cock was found leaking by the water jump and supposedly it had led to a damp patch on the run-in.

But, looking at the replay just now, I found myself thinking: “Cramp.” So it’s interesting to open the autobiography of his jockey, Dick Francis, and find these words: “In the actual second of his fall, I thought he had broken a hind leg, for he collapsed from the back, but when I found that he was unhurt, cramp seemed the only solution.

“Obviously, Devon Loch did not suffer from any prolonged cramp, for he was walking normally within two minutes of his fall, but a violent spasm equivalent to stitch seems a reasonable possibility. Veterinary opinion seems to be that it is so rare as to be almost unknown. On the other hand, a retired huntsman told me he used to ride a mare that did the same thing. She collapsed twice without warning in the hunting field while galloping, and after that he felt that she was more of a risk than a pleasure …”

Anne Holland also turned up some evidence in favour of cramp in her 1988 book Grand National: The Official Celebration of 150 Years. She quotes Alex King, who worked at Devon Loch’s yard, as suggesting that research at the time showed a link between human athletes taking glucose and suffering cramp. “We used to buy glucose for the horses by the crateful from Boots …. There was never a barrel of glucose at Fairlawne again after Devon Loch.”

Anyway, you can relive the race here and tell me your theories below. Once we’ve solved this one, we can crack on to the question of how The Lamb managed to change colour from his first National win in 1868, when he was grey to his second, in 1871, by which time he was nearly black.

Rebel Gold 2.30 Elusive Star 3.00 Shantou Sisu (nap) 3.30 Global Fert 4.00 Death Duty 4.30 Robin Deuz Pois (nb) 5.00 Captain Kangaroo

Tuesday’s best bets

Big fields around tight Clonmel will make for a tricky day’s betting but hopefully Shantou Sisu (3.00) can help us out in the two-mile handicap hurdle. The chestnut is a maiden after 15 starts but he was beaten just a short-head here three weeks ago and today’s circumstances are marginally more favourable.

In that race for amateur riders, he was pipped by the Jamie Codd-ridden runner and, although he has been nudged up by 3lb, he has Danny Mullins aboard today for the first time. This step back in trip should be a help to a horse who went so easily on the front end for a long way that day and the drying ground can also help him sustain his effort. He’s mostly 5-2 but there are a couple of bits of 11-4 left.

The 7-1 is fair about Rebel Gold (2.00) in the opening maiden hurdle. From the yard of Tom Foley, he made very slow progress in his first few hurdle tries but took quite a step forward last time at Wexford when stepped back to the minimum distance. Any more progress, plus a drying surface ought to put him right in the argument here.

I would tend to favour Death Duty over Bachasson in the best race on the card at 4pm but it doesn’t appeal as a betting heat. Bachasson was nearly a Gold Cup contender at his peak but his best form is two years back and it’s a risk that he hasn’t been seen over fences since falling at Cheltenham in 2018.

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