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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

The original Champion Hurdle and more: ten Aintree races that no longer exist

John Randall recalls the track's most significant discontinued races

Red Rum wins the 1977 National but the Aintree legend also made his racecourse debut at Liverpool on the Flat
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Champion Hurdle 1841-44

The first Champion Hurdle was run at Aintree in 1841, not Cheltenham in 1927, and was won by Jupiter; the only other race on the card was the Grand National. It was discontinued after only four runnings.

Later races called the Champion Hurdle were run at Kempton (a handicap) and Gatwick before the current race was inaugurated.

Champion Chase 1881-1950

Run over one circuit of the big fences, this race had a misleading title, as most championship contenders ran in the Grand National instead. Gamecock won the two races on consecutive days in 1887.

The Champion Chase's roll of honour included six more Grand National winners - Roquefort (twice), Gamecock, Grudon, Troytown, Kellsboro' Jack (twice) and Freebooter.

Two giants, Easter Hero (1931) and Golden Miller (1935), took part but only after failing to complete the course in the Grand National the previous day. Easter Hero won the prize in a dead-heat but Golden Miller caused controversy by unseating his jockey again.

Altcar 4-Y-O Chase 1893-1904

Imagine the four-year-olds at the meeting facing one circuit of the Grand National fences instead of the nine flights of the Anniversary Hurdle. That was what happened in the bizarre Altcar Chase.

Not surprisingly, there was often wholesale carnage with few finishers. None of the winners amounted to much in the long run.

Stanley Chase 1893-1952

This forerunner of the Maghull Novices' Chase was won by five subsequent Grand National winners - the great Jerry M, Ally Sloper, Sprig, Gregalach and Kellsboro' Jack - and one future Gold Cup winner, Poet Prince.

The young horses struggled to cope with the big fences and it was normal for the whole field to fall, with the winner being remounted. The 1904 winner, Glenmore, was remounted twice.

Liverpool Hurdle 1871-2008

This 2m handicap regularly attracted a top-class field, and at times it was the most important hurdle race of the season. Its roll of honour included Champion Hurdle winners Free Fare, Salmon Spray, Sea Pigeon (under 12st 6lb) and Flakey Dove. Birds Nest also won it.

It was run as the Liverpool Hurdle until 1971, and then in the name of various sponsors until replaced by the conditionals' and amateurs' handicap hurdle in 2009.

Schweppes Gold Trophy 1963

Schweppes sponsored the Grand National for two years, but the company became so frustrated at the lack of publicity that it inaugurated its own rich handicap hurdle at the meeting in 1963. The 41-runner race was won by the Ryan Price-trained Rosyth, but champion jockey Stan Mellor suffered serious facial injuries after a fall at the second flight.

The race was transferred to Newbury the very next year, and is currently run as the Betfair Hurdle.

Sporting Chronicle/Tote 7th Race Chase 1977-94

The meeting currently has no 2m4f handicap chase over the smaller fences but for 18 years this race, run under various names, fitted the bill.

Its classiest winners were Bachelor's Hall and Fifty Dollars More, while King Or Country, trained by David Barons, won it three times.

Liverpool Spring Cup 1848-1976

The Grand National fixture was a mixed meeting until Flat racing at Aintree was discontinued in 1976, and the 1m2f Liverpool Spring Cup was a big handicap.

The race was won by former Ascot Gold Cup victor Buccaneer, course specialist China Cock (twice) and Black Speck, who twice won it under a record 9st 7lb.

In 1899 the remarkably versatile Crestfallen dead-heated for the Spring Cup and, two days later, was awarded the Liverpool Hurdle in the stewards' room.

Classic trials

The Grand National meeting in March came too early for most Classic contenders, but in 1907 Orby won the Earl of Sefton's Handicap there before becoming the first horse trained in Ireland to win the Derby.

The best winner of the Union Jack Stakes was 2,000 Guineas hero Colorado (1926), and its most notable runners-up were Craganour (1913), disqualified winner of a sensational Derby, and Never Say Die (1954) two months before he caused an upset in the Derby.

The Bickerstaffe Stakes was won in 1914 by St Leger victor Black Jester and in 1922 by champion filly Selene, the dam of Hyperion, while Peleid won both the handicap immediately before Red Rum's first Grand National and the St Leger in 1973.

Other Flat races

Red Rum, the most famous horse to run on the Flat at the Grand National meeting, made his racecourse debut by dead-heating for the two-year-old seller in 1967 – six years before his first National victory.

The Beatles were not sports fans but Paul McCartney bought his father Jim a horse, Drakes Drum, who won the Hylton Handicap in 1966. He was led in by Paul less than an hour before Anglo's Grand National.

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E.W. Terms
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