Officially the famous race has been run since 1839 at Aintree racecourse. A number of people believe the first race was actually in 1836 but that running as those in 37 and 38 are not officially recognised as it is believed that they took place at Maghull and not Aintree. Some historians have unearthed evidence that suggests those three races were in fact run at Aintree but thus far calls for the Nationals of 1836–1838 to be added to the record books have fallen on deaf ears.
The 1956 race takes its place in Grand National history more for the defeat of Devon Loch than for the victory of ESB. Owned by Her Majesty The Queen Mother Devon Loch was five lengths clear heading up the straight and to all intents and purposes had the race won. But he didn’t win. For reasons to this day unknown the horse suddenly gave a half-leap not 50 yards from the finish line ending up sprawled out on his stomach almost unseating jockey Dick Francis allowing E.S.B. to take the win and leaving the crowd stunned. Afterwards, The Queen Mother famously said: “Oh, that’s racing”.
You can’t talk of the Grand National and not mention 1973, 74 and 77 winner Red Rum. His win in 1973 was a thriller. The burden of twelve stone began to drain the stamina of Crisp who had been clear in the lead at the famous Elbow and Red Rum gradually wore down the lead to get his nose in front near the line and win by three-quarters of a length in a then-record time.
He was back again for the 1974 race and now he was carrying the maximum weight of 12 stone and actually giving weight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot. It wasn’t enough to stop him though and he was the first to achieve the double since Reynoldstown in 1936.
L’Escargot won in 1975 with Red Rum second and he filled the same spot in 1976 behind Rag Trade. Some thought perhaps at twelve years of age his best days were behind him by the Grand National of 1977, the Silver Jubilee year, but he won his third National emphatically by 25 lengths to make him unquestionably the greatest Grand National performer ever.
We’ve all seen the film Champions starring John Hurt, haven’t we? The 1981 race is won by Aldaniti beating Spartan Missile by four lengths the eleven-year-old having been nursed back from three career-threatening leg injuries. He was ridden by Bob Champion, who had fought and beat testicular cancer having been diagnosed in 1979. A fairytale of a Grand National if ever there was one; and if you haven’t seen the film you really should.
1993 was ‘the race that never was’ with two false starts; my mate Matty won’t enjoy this as he was on the ‘winner’. The first false start is caused by several riders becoming tangled in the starting tape but the officials are able to stop all the runners and they return to the start for a second go. They lined up for a second start but a problem with the starting tape again causes chaos leading to a second false start but as starter Keith Brown waves his red flag this time it fails to unfurl meaning on this occasion second official, Ken Evans situated 100 yards down the track, does not signal for the runners to turn around a second time and 30 out of the 39 runners carry on around the course. Seven of the field went on to complete the entire race with Esha Ness ridden by John White and trained by Jenny Pitman ‘winning’ the race only to discover it has been declared void.
The Grand National of 1997 was the 150th official renewal and famously postponed and run on the Monday after two coded bomb threats from the IRA. Thankfully the police were able to secure the course and 60,000 odd spectators, race personnel, local residents as well of course as trainers, owners, jockeys and most of the horses running that day, a dozen remained in the stables at Aintree, were all safely evacuated. The race was rearranged for the Monday at 4.45, I remember sneaking out of the office to the local Ladbrokes, and was won by Lord Gyllene by a distance of 25 lengths at 14-1, meaning I did not return to the office as I was on.