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Thursday, 18 October, 2018

Did you know . . . ? John Randall's great Grand National miscellany

Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet: her character Velvet Brown was disqualified from the race
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Most successful winners at stud

Of the 12 mares who have won the Grand National, Empress (1880) was the most successful at stud. Her son Red Prince was prominent on the Flat, over fences and at stud (siring Grand National runner-up Red Lad), and she was the seventh dam of Japan Cup winner Stanerra.

Battleship (1938) is the only entire to triumph in the last 100 years. That son of Man o' War sired two US champion steeplechasers, War Battle and Shipboard.

Ran in the Derby and Grand National

The last horse to run in both the Derby and the Grand National was Permit, who came 23rd of 25 behind Charlottown at Epsom in 1966 and fell at the second Canal Turn when Well To Do triumphed at Aintree in 1972.

Permit was a 100-1 shot in both races , though he had come fifth in the Dante and had once beaten Grand National winner Red Alligator into second place at Doncaster.

Won a Derby and Grand National

Billy Barton entered Grand National folklore by falling at the final fence when disputing the lead with Tipperary Tim in 1928; he was remounted to finish second.

Less well known is Billy Barton's feat in 1921-22 of winning both the Cuban Derby and the Cuban Grand National (a Flat handicap) at Oriental Park, Havana, where racing took place before the Communist revolution. He also won America's premier race over timber, the Maryland Hunt Cup, in 1926.

Royal Ascot – Grand National double

Voluptuary is the only Royal Ascot winner to go on to victory in the Grand National. In 1881 he won the Dee Stakes at Chester, came sixth in the Derby and, ridden by Fred Archer, won a Biennial Stakes at Ascot. In 1884 he became the last horse to win the Grand National on his debut over fences.

He was bred by Queen Victoria, who had no interest in racing but maintained the royal stud at Hampton Court.

Caughoo myth

The 1947 Grand National was run on a misty day and according to one story the 100-1 winner, Caughoo, was pulled up on the far side of the course and joined in again when the field came round on the second circuit.

The story is utter rubbish because photographs clearly show Caughoo jumping the water with his rivals; the image dominated the front page of The Sporting Life two days later. But some people never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

National Velvet

Another myth is that National Velvet won the Grand National. In neither the novel (by Enid Bagnold) nor the film (starring Elizabeth Taylor) does Velvet Brown win the race. Her mount (The Piebald in the novel, The Pie in the film) finishes first but is disqualified for being ridden by an ineligible jockey.

So if Bryony Frost, Katie Walsh or Rachael Blackmore were to become a real-life National Velvet, her mount would have to be disqualified.

Film stars as owners

Elizabeth Taylor owned racehorses but did not emulate Gregory Peck by having runners in the Grand National. Peck owned Owen's Sedge, seventh to Ayala in 1963, and Different Class, who finished third to Red Alligator when favourite in 1968. He was in the crowd that was evacuated from Aintree because of the bomb scare in 1997.

Marion duPont Scott, owner of the 1938 winner Battleship, was married at the time to Hollywood cowboy star Randolph Scott.

Killed in action

The only jockey to suffer fatal injuries while riding in the Grand National has been James Wynne, whose mount O'Connell fell at The Chair in 1862. His father, Denny Wynne, had won on Mathew in 1847.

Two other jockeys have been killed in races over the big fences – amateur George Ede in the Sefton Chase in 1870 (two years after winning the National on The Lamb) and Robert Clarke in the 1932 Stanley Chase.

Non-English winners

In some ways the early days of steeplechasing were more international in scope than today, and the two Grand National victories for horses trained in France both came in the mid-Victorian era. Yorkshireman Harry Lamplugh trained at Chantilly and sent Huntsman (1862) and Cortolvin (1867) across the Channel to triumph at Aintree.

One For Arthur: one of only two Scottish Grand National winners, following Rubstic in 1979

There have been 23 winners trained in Ireland, two in Scotland – Rubstic (1979) and One For Arthur (2017) – and one in Wales, Kirkland (1905).

Latest date

This year's renewal will equal the record as the latest the Grand National has ever been run; it was also held on April 14 in 2007 (Silver Birch's year) and 2012 (Neptune Collonges). After Saturday, the six latest dates will all have been in the last 20 runnings.

The race has gradually been moved later and later in the calendar over the years; in its early days it was run in February six times. It has not been run in March since 1996.


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Voluptuary is the only Royal Ascot winner to go on to victory in the Grand National
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