Tom Olliver

Tom Olliver  Thomas “Tom” Olliver, finished second on Seventy Four in the 1839 Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, now considered the first official running of the Grand National. However, Oliver went on to ride in 19 Grand Nationals, including 17 in a row, between 1839 and 1859. In fact, Oliver held the record for the number of rides in the race until 2015.

Also known – politically incorrectly, by modern standards – as “Black Tom”, because of his swarthy complexion, Olliver was one of the most renowned professional jockeys of his day. He won the National three times, on Gay Lad in 1842, Vanguard in 1843 and Peter Simple in 1953.

In 1843, which was, coincidentally, the first year in which the Grand National became a handicap, Vanguard was carried out by none other than Peter Simple, but continued and eventually beat Nimrod by 3 lengths. Vanguard was given to Olliver, as a gift, by grateful owner Lord Chesterfield and when the horse died Olliver had his skin made into a horsehide sofa.

In 1953, Olliver told the owner of Peter Simple, Captain Joseph “Josey” Little, “sometimes he means it and I don’t; sometimes I means it and he don’t, but today we both mean it!” He was right, too, steering Peter Simple to a 4-length win over Miss Mowbray which, as a 15-year-old, made him by far the oldest horse ever to win the Grand National.

After victory on Peter Simple, Olliver declared,“I was born and bred hopelessly insolvent”; he was, in fact, the son of a Spanish smuggler but, off the course, was renowned for his generosity, not to mention his promiscuity, and was imprisoned more than once for indebtedness. A highly popular figure, all the same, Tom Olliver fully deserves his place in the Grand National Hall of Fame.

Mr. Frisk

Mr. Frisk  Mr. Frisk may have been hard pressed to win the 1990 Grand National, eventually holding on by just three-quarters of a length from the luckless Durham Edition but, in so doing, set a record time that will never be beaten. At least, not unless Pegasus exists beyond the realms of Greek mythology and is fully effective over 4 miles 2 furlongs and 7 yards – the official distance of the Grand National since 2016 – on rain-softened ground.

Mr. Frisk clocked his record time, of 8 minutes 47.80 seconds, on going officially described as “firm” but, since 2012, the National Course has been routinely watered so that the going is never, nor will be again, faster than “good to soft”. So, even with the distance of the Grand National reduced by half a furlong, following a change to the position of the start, for safety purposes, in 2013, his triumph will almost certainly never be repeated. In fact, the fastest time since 1990 was the 8 minutes 56.80 seconds recorded by Many Clouds in 2015.

Owned by Lois Duffey, trained by Kim Bailey and ridden by Marcus Armytage – the last amateur rider to win the Grand National – Mr. Frisk chased the leaders for the first two-and-a-quarter-mile circuit and, having moved into second place at halfway, was left in front when erstwhile leader Uncle Merlin blundered and unseated his rider at Becher’s Brook second time around. Thereafter, he didn’t see another horse and, although closed down on the run-in, had just enough left in reserve to deny trainer Arthur Stephenson a National winner on his seventieth birthday. Rinus finish third, although 20 lengths behind the front pair.

Amberleigh House

Amberleigh House  The name of Donald “Ginger” McCain will always be synonymous with that of Red Rum, the most successful horse in the history of the Grand National. However, later in his career – in fact, 27 years after Red Rum completed his historic treble – McCain won the National again, with Amberleigh House in 2004. In doing so, he joined George Dockeray and Fred Rimmell as one of just three trainers to win the Grand National four times.

Amberleigh House had been brought down at the Canal Turn on his first attempt over the National fences in the 2001 Grand National and finished third, beaten 14 lengths, behind Monty’s Pass in the 2003 Grand National. He had also won, and twice been placed in, the Becher Chase, over 3 miles 3 furlongs on the National Course, so wasn’t lacking experience over the unique Aintree fences.

In the 2004 Grand National, ridden by Graham Lee, Amberleigh House was sent off at 16/1 eighth choice of the 39 runners behind 10/1 co-favourites Clan Royal, Juracon II, Joss Naylor and Bindaree. Behind in the early stages, Amberleigh House made steady headway heading out into the country for the second time and jumping the third last had moved into fourth place, although still a long way behind the leading trio.

However, as is often the case at Aintree, the complexion of the race changed dramatically in the closing stages. Hedgehunter fell at the final fence, leaving Clan Royal with an advantage of two or three lengths. Ridden by Liam Cooper, who’d lost his whip at the fourth last fence, Clan Royal wandered left, then right, on the run-in and was almost joined at the “Elbow” by Lord Atterbury. Meanwhile, Amberleigh House made relentless progress on the outside, taking the lead inside the final hundred yards and staying on well to win by 3 lengths.

Red Marauder

Red Marauder  The 2001 Grand National was run with foot-and-mouth precautions in place after the first case of the contagious viral disease for 20 years caused the suspension of racing and the cancellation of the Cheltenham Festival the previous month. The race was run in gruelling conditions – the worst since 1955, when the water jump was omitted – and the winning time was slowest since Bohemian aristocrat Karl, 8th Prince Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau, rode his own horse, Zoedone, to victory over five other finishers in 1883.

Owned and trained, under permit, by Norman Mason at Crook, County Durham and ridden by Richard Guest, who had been assisting Mason for several years, Red Marauder had fallen at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit in the 2000 Grand National. He fell again, at the first fence, in his preparatory race at Haydock six weeks before the 2001 Grand National, and was sent off at 33/1 for the Aintree marathon.

Approaching the Canal Turn on the first circuit, the 40-strong maximum field had already been to reduced to 25, when Paddy’s Return, who’d unseated rider Adrian Maguire five fences earlier but continued loose, ran down the fence, causing carnage among the backmarkers. In total, ten horses, including the 10/1 joint favourite Moral Support, were brought down, refused or unseated rider at the Chair. Further casualties followed and, heading out into the country for the second time, just seven horses, led by the topweight, Beau, were left standing.

Blowing Wind, Papillon, Brave Highlander and Unsinkable Boxer all refused at the first open ditch after several loose horses ran down the fence and Beau unseated rider Carl Llewellyn at the next fence after his reins broke, leaving just Red Marauder and Smarty to contest a “slow motion” match.

Red Marauder jumped hesitantly at the fourth last fence, handing the initiative to Smarty, but rallied to lead approaching the second last and steadily drew clear, although at no great pace, to win by a distance. Smarty, in turn, finished a distance clear of the remounted Blowing Wind, who was hacked home in his own time by A.P. McCoy.

Rhyme ‘N’ Reason

Rhyme ‘N’ Reason  Owned by Miss Juliet Reed and trained by David Elsworth at Whitsbury Manor Stables near Fordingbridge, Hampshire, Rhyme ‘N’ Reason is best remembered for winning the Grand National, on his first and last appearance, in 1988. However, earlier in his career, when trained by David Murray Smith, he’d won the Mumm Novices’ Chase at the Grand National Meeting and the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and, two seasons later, remained a force to be reckoned with in staying chases.

Indeed, your correspondent witnessed his first win of the 1987/88 season, in the Lingfield Park Handicap Chase on December 12, 1987. Carrying just 10st 1lb, Rhyme ‘N’ Reason was last of the six runners at the end of the first circuit – provoking a snide “never trust a Welshman” from a colleague to whom I’d advised him at 4/1 – but eventually won comfortably by 5 lengths.

Notwithstanding a fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which his jockey, Brendan Powell Snr., maintains he would otherwise have won, Rhyme ‘N’ Reason was defeated just twice in six starts en route to Aintree the following April. He was beaten a length by Playschool in the Welsh National at Chepstow and 8 lengths by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Charter Party in the Gainsborough Handicap Chase at Sandown, but nevertheless well fancied for the National at 10/1 joint second favourite.

His cause was aided by the fall of 17/2 favourite Sacred Path at the first fence but, according to Powell, “At Becher’s Rhyme ‘N’ Reason did the splits and sat down and I thought that was our chance gone.” However, the nine-year-old recovered and steadily crept back into contention, taking the lead at Valentine’s Brook. Durham Edition, ridden by Chris Grant, passed him on the run-in, but Rhyme ‘N’ Reason rallied to win by 4 lengths.