Ruby Walsh

Ruby Walsh Rupert “Ruby” Walsh, the eldest son of Kildare trainer Ted Walsh, is recognised as one of the finest National Hunt jockeys of his generation. He has ridden over 2,500 winners and is one of a few jockeys who’ve won the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

In addition, despite the injuries that are an occupational hazard of working with horses in any discipline, never mind jumping fences on a half-ton racehorse travelling at 40 miles an hour, Walsh Jnr. has an enviable record in the Grand National. In 13 attempts, so far, he has failed to complete the National Course just three times and, apart from Leighton Aspell, is the only current jockey to have won the National twice.

In fact, he won the National on his first attempt, as a 20-year-old, aboard Papillon, trained by his father, Ted, in 2000. The following year, the same horse refused at the nineteenth fence after being hampered by a loose horse but, in the days before remounting was banned, Walsh climbed back aboard and hacked home to finish a distant fourth. In 2002, he completed the course again, when a not-quite-so-distant fourth on Kingsmark, trained by Martin Todhunter. He didn’t have to wait long for his second National winner, though, because his was back in the winners’ enclosure again in 2005, having ridden Hedgehunter, trained by Willie Mullins, to a 14-length win over Royal Auclair.

Walsh has yet to win the National again, but finished second on Hedgehunter in 2006 and third on My Will, trained by Paul Nicholls, in 2009. His most recent ride in the great race, Pleasant Company, in 2017, could only stay on at one pace from the second last to finish ninth, beaten 28¾ lengths, behind the winner, One For Arthur. However, in 2018, with Walsh sidelined with a broken leg, suffered on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, the same horse finished second, beaten just a head, for jockey David Mullins and trainer Willie Mullins.

Bindaree

Bindaree History records that Bindaree won the Grand National in 2002 to give Gloucestershire trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies his second win in the celebrated steeplechase after Earth Summit in 1998. However, Twiston-Davies, who had reportedly been left with ‘a bigger debt than Argentina’ after buying out former business Peter Scudamore and was experiencing a less-than-stellar campaign in 2001/02, revealed afterwards that he had intended to retire if Bindaree had not won.

In any event, ridden by Jim Culloty, Bindaree took the lead at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit and, although carried wide by a loose horse – ironically, his better-fancied stable companion, Beau – at the Canal Turn, maintained that lead until the final fence. At that point, he was headed by the well-fancied What’s Up Boys, ridden by Richard Johnson, who took a three-length lead, despite edging right, on the run-in. However, switched to the inside at the famous ‘Elbow’, Bindaree rallied to good effect in the closing stages, regaining the lead inside the final hundred yards to win by 1¾ lengths at odds of 20/1. In so doing, he made Jim Culloty one of a small, select band of jockeys to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season.

Twiston-Davies remained unconvinced regarding his future, although he did concede, ‘now that I have won the National again, I may keep a few boxes here at the house.’ Years later, he reflected on his second National success, saying, ‘He [Bindaree] is the horse who stopped me from retiring, and none of all this would be happening now if it weren’t for him.’

Toby Balding

Toby Balding The late Gerald “Toby” Balding, who died in 2014 at the age of 78, had the distinction of winning the Grand National twice, with Highland Wedding in 1969 and Little Polveir in 1989. Indeed, in his long and distinguished career, he saddled over 2,000 winners, including Beech Road and Morley Street in the Champion Hurdle, in 1989 and 1991, respectively, and Cool Ground in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1992.

His first Grand National winner, Highland Wedding, had completed the National Course twice before, finishing eighth behind Anglo in 1966 and seventh behind Red Alligator in 1986. He arrived at Aintree in 1969 fresh from his third victory in four years – the 1968 renewal was abandoned – in the Eider Chase, over 4 miles and 122 yards at Newcastle in February and, in the absence of regular jockey Owen McNally, was ridden by Eddie Harty.

By now a 12-year-old, Highland Wedding was known to be as stubborn as a mule, on occasions, at home, but as Balding later explained, “He wasn’t a villain, just a bit independent so there was no question of us bullying him. We just had to wait for him.” In any event, on firm going, Highland Wedding consented to put his best foot forward and came home 12 lengths ahead of 50/1 outsider Steel Chance, ridden by Richard Pitman.

Little Polveir, too, had previous experience of the National Course, having finished ninth behind West Tip in 1986, but had fallen at the Chair and unseated his rider at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit in two subsequent attempts. He didn’t join Toby Balding until January, 1989, but was ridden on his first two starts by young amateur rider Philip Fenton which, according to his trainer, “he enjoyed enormously after the pros had knocked lumps out of him in the past”.

Ridden in the National by professional Jimmy Frost, at 3lb overweight, Little Polveir took the lead at the final fence on the first circuit, the water jump, and led, or disputed the lead, for the rest of the way. In fact, after Becher’s Brook second time around he was never headed and, with a riderless horse for company, came home 7 lengths ahead of West Tip. Balding said later, “I don’t think any of my horses ever left for the races in better shape than Little Polveir as he headed for Aintree.”