1) Red Rum pips Crisp, 1973
There have been fewer moments of greater sporting, let alone racing, drama than Red Rum’s first victory in the Grand National. But it wasn’t the horse that went on to prove himself the greatest in the race’s history that made this particular running of the National so memorable as that of the performance of the runner-up Crisp.
The fences were an awful lot tougher back in the mid-1970s than they are today and yet Crisp treated them with utter disdain. He was carrying 12st, a weight forbidden in the National now, but failed by only three-quarters of a length to beat a horse who was carrying a featherweight and who would subsequently romp home twice under crushing burdens that no other runner has come close to emulating in the 30-odd years since. Crisp was so far clear even four fences out that defeat seemed unimaginable but he was a champion racehorse at the minimum distance of two miles and the National is four-and-a-half.
The giant horse’s stamina started to give out but though Red Rum was only five lengths down at the last, he still only got his head in front two strides from the line. “Red Rum’s beginning to get up … he’s beginning to get up,” bellowed Peter O’Sullevan, as Crisp rolled around on the run-in like a drunk trying to find his way out of the pub. The third horse, L’Escargot, a dual Gold Cup winner who subsequently won the National in 1975, was 25 lengths adrift at the finish. I was 12 in 1973 and my gran had put my first ever bet on for me. I had backed Red Rum and was ecstatic. Every time I watch the re-run now I want Red Rum to blunder; for Crisp not to hit the final fence as he did; for his jockey, Richard Pitman, to steer him in a straight line in the closing stages. Anything to enable him to hang on and spare us the agonising last few yards. TP
2) Devon Loch collapses, 1956
He jumped all 30 fences but he couldn’t make it up the run-in. In what may be the most dramatic example of sporting defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, Devon Loch belly-flopped to the turf with the winning post just yards away, handing victory to ESB, who had been trailing him by three lengths. His failure at least gave the Queen Mother, his owner, the chance to appear gracious in defeat. “That’s racing,” she told those who offered their sympathies.
Dick Francis, Devon Loch’s jockey, couldn’t quite match that level of poise, reportedly bursting into tears when the crowd applauded him as he walked back to the grandstand. A kinder fate awaited him as a result of the race; he was asked to write his autobiography, which he followed with a string of bestselling novels that made him rich. Explanations abound for what happened. Devon Loch may have got cramp, been shocked by crowd noise or seen the water jump out of the corner of his eye. In contrast to Francis’s books, there was to be no tidy resolution. CC
3) The field folds for Foinavon, 1967
The horse that was so slow, they named a fence after him. Even now, 42 years on, Foinavon remains the definitive proof that anything can happen in the National. Foinavon’s first owner was Anne, Duchess of Westminster, who named him after a mountain, just like another of her horses, one called Arkle. There, the similarities ended. Foinavon was a 100-1 shot when he lined up for the National, and his owner, John Kempton, had decided to go to Worcester instead.
John Buckingham took over as his jockey when his regular pilot could not make the weight, but they were tailed off and coming home in his own time as the field approached the 23rd fence, the one after Becher’s, on the second circuit. It was here that chaos ensued, when the riderless Popham Down veered straight across the fence without jumping it. Those in behind panicked and slowed down, and for 10 seconds, horses were falling or refusing so rapidly that Michael O’Hehir, the BBC commentator, could barely keep up. Foinavon, so far detached that Buckingham could take evasive action, was the only horse to jump the fence first time. Seventeen more, including Josh Gifford on Honey End, the favourite, remounted and set off after Foinavon, but this horse had – by his standards, at least – bolted. GW
4) Last Suspect prevails for Forster, 1985
The third Grand National winner trained by that eternal pessimist, the late, great Captain Tim Forster, Last Suspect started at 50-1 following a track record that revealed as much temperament as ability. Not for the first time, though, Aintree galvanised a “thinker” like Last Suspect and, despite swishing his tail almost continuously, he came out of the clouds with a withering run to collar Mr Snugfit and record a memorable victory in the colours of Anne, Duchess Of Westminster, made famous by Arkle.
It was a win which underlined the skills of Forster, one of the old-school jumps trainers whose like will never be seen again. Winning jockey Hywel Davies, meanwhile, was lucky to be at Aintree at all, having been at death’s door in a crashing fall months earlier. Last Suspect was a one-off, in the best tradition of Grand National winners. RC
5) Hats off to Red Rum, 1977
It is easy to forget now that back in the mid-1970s, the Grand National appeared to be on its last legs. Every running was billed as “possibly the last” as Bill Davies, a property developer, threatened to dig up the track’s vast acreage for housing. It was the greatest National horse of them all who helped to focus the public’s attention on the threat. His unprecedented third success, having finished second twice too, was a moment of such joy and emotion that it galvanised the effort to save the National, though it was not finally secure for another six years.
The race itself was relatively uneventful. Red Rum was clearly going best from some way out. The only danger was a fall, and since he had already jumped around Aintree four times without touching a twig, that was not too realistic either.
After the last, it was a procession, memorably described by Peter O’Sullevan in words that can still glisten the eye. “He’s getting the most tremendous cheer from the crowd. They’re willing him home now. The 12-year-old Red Rum, being preceded only by loose horses, being chased by Churchtown Boy. They’re coming to The Elbow. There’s a furlong between Red Rum and his third Grand National triumph. And he’s coming up to the line to win it like a fresh horse in great style. It’s hats off and a tremendous reception – you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool.” GW
6) Corbiere’s landmark win, 1983
Jenny Pitman’s Corbiere goes down in Aintree history as the first National winner to be trained by a woman, but what should not be overlooked was the brilliant round of jumping which brought about that landmark victory. Crisp, quite rightly, is remembered for the manner in which he jumped the fences in 1973, but you won’t see many better rounds of jumping in the National than Corbiere under Ben de Haan.
An eight-year-old, and there haven’t been too many National winners of that age in the modern era, carrying 11st4lb, Corbiere had won the Welsh National earlier in the season. He looked high enough in the weights, but barely touched a twig en route to beating Ireland’s Greasepaint. Corbiere went on to run in the race on four more occasions, finishing third in 1984 and 1985. RC