Vincent O’Brien

Vincent O’Brien  The late Vincent O’Brien, who died in 2009 at the age of 92, achieved unsurpassed success in horse racing, both National Hunt and Flat. Before he turned his attention to training on the Flat in the late 1950s, he’d already won the Grand National three times in succession, with three different horses.

Impressive though his Grand National record is, O’Brien was arguably unlucky not to have won the world famous steeplechase more often. His first runner in the race, Royal Tan, ridden by his brother, Phonsie, in 1951, finished second to Nickel Coin after nearly unseating his rider at the final fence. In 1952, the same horse unseated Phonsie O’Brien at the same fence when clear third behind Teal and Legal Joy.

In any event, O’Brien recorded is first National win in 1953 with the eight-year-old Early Mist, owned, like Royal Tan, by Joe Griffin and ridden by Bryan Marshall. Early Mist had fallen at the first fence in the 1952 Grand National, when trained by Jimmy Rank, but O’Brien told “Mincemeat Joe”, as his owner was affectionately known, that his horse could win the race in 1953. Griffin backed Early Mist to win £100,000 and duly collected after the 20/1 chance led for most of the second circuit and won by 20 lengths from Mont Tremblant.

Royal Tan, who had been absent during the 1952/53 season with leg trouble, finally came good over the National fences in 1954. Bryan Marshall rode a superb waiting race on the ten-year-old, delaying his challenge until the final fence, and although Tudor Line, ridden by George Slack, closed all the way up the run-in Royal Tan held on to win by a neck.

O’Brien won his third, and final, National in 1955 with Quare Times, owned by Cecily Welman and ridden by Pat Taafe. The nine-year-old had won his first race, the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, in 1954 and was one of four entries from the yard, which also included Early Mist and Royal Tan. However, Quare Times was the only one to appreciate the heavy going, made so by torrential rain – which nearly caused the abandonment of the race – and strode clear in the closing stages to beat the luckless Tudor Line by 12 lengths.

Auroras Encore

Auroras Encore  Auroras Encore won the Grand National in 2013 – the first year in which the race was broadcast on Channel 4 – and, in so doing, became the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the iconic steeplechase since Merryman II, trained by Neville Crump, in 1960. His trainer, Sue Smith, also became only the third woman to saddle a National winner, after Jenny Pitman, with Corbiere in 1983 and Royal Athlete in 1995, and Venetia Williams, with Mon Mome in 2009.

Having failed to trouble the judge on his first five starts of the 2012/13 National Hunt season, including a fall in a veterans’ handicap chase at Doncaster on his fourth start, he was allotted just 10st 3lb for the Grand National and, understandably, sent off as a 66/1 outsider. However, having survived mistakes at the fence after Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit and the fence after that on the second, he tackled the leader, Teaforthree, at the final fence and was driven out to beat Cappa Bleu by nine lengths.

His jockey, 23-year-old Ryan Mania, who was having his first ride in the National, later reflected on his victory, saying, “There are no words to describe it. I got a dream ride round. I couldn’t believe my luck.”

A fortnight later Auroras Encore tried, but failed, to become the first horse since Red Rum, in 1974, to win the Grand National and the Scottish Grand National, at Ayr, in the same season. He was badly hampered at the second fence and, after a couple of subsequent mistakes, was tailed off when pulled up with five fences to jump.

Auroras Encore ran his last race in the Sky Bet Chase, formerly the Great Yorkshire Chase, over 3 miles at Doncaster in January, 2014. At 50/1, he finished last of nine finishers, beaten 62 lengths, behind The Rainbow Hunter, but was subsequently found to have fractured his off foreleg in the process. After an operation to insert screws into the injured leg, it was announced that he would not race again.

Peter Bromley

Peter Bromley  Peter Bromley, who was the voice of racing on BBC Radio for 40 years between 1961 and 2001, had no family background in horse racing. However, at one point in his career, he did harbour the ambition of becoming a jockey. Bromley served as cavalry officer in the 14/20 King’s Hussars, in Catterick, North Yorkshire and later in Fleet, Hampshire, where he became acquainted with the local racehorse trainer, Frank Pullen. He rode work and schooled horses at the now-defunct Tweseldown Racecourse, before joining Pullen as assistant trainer and amateur rider when he left the army.

However, when his riding aspirations were dampened by injury, Bromley sought pastures new and worked for the British Racecourse Amplifying and Recording Company before joining the BBC. He made his first commentary for BBC Radio at Newmarket in 1959 and so began a career in which he would cover 42 Grand Nationals before his retirement.

Renowned for his rich intonation, enthusiasm and creativity, Bromley said that the secret of his success was “to imagine you are talking to someone in a dark room”. He did so with aplomb when describing the dramatic finish to the 1973 National, exclaiming “Red Rum wins it! Crisp is second! And the rest don’t matter. We’ll never see a race like this in a hundred years!” In fact, his favourite commentary also involved Red Rum, when he won an unprecedented third Grand National, as a 12-year-old, in 1977. He reflected, “I believe that commentary gave me more pleasure than any other, perhaps just because Red Rum was such a special horse whose Aintree record will never be matched.” Other memorable Grand National commentaries included the emotional victory of Aldaniti, ridden by Bob Champion, in 1981.

Peter Bromley went out on a high, finally hanging up his microphone after painting a picture of a cracking renewal of the Derby, won by Galileo, in 2001. Sadly, within a year Bromley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in June, 2003, at the age of 74.

Neville Crump

Neville Crump  Neville Franklin Crump was one of the most successful trainers of staying steeplechasers in the period immediately following World War II. He was National Hunt Champion Trainer twice, in 1951/52 and 1956/57, and, with the notable exception of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, won all the major staying chases in the British National Hunt calendar. When he retired from the training ranks in 1989, he had won the Grand National three times, the Scottish Grand National five times, the Welsh National twice and the Whitbread Gold Cup – now, of course, the Bet365 Gold Cup – three times.

Crump saddled his first National winner, Sheila’s Cottage, in 1948, a little over a decade after first taking out a training licence. Owned by John Procter, Sheila’s Cottage apparently had her own ideas about the game but, on a balmy summer day, was on her best behaviour at Aintree, tackling long-time leader First Of The Dandies on the famously long run-in to win by a length at odds of 50/1. In so doing, she became the first mare to win the National for 46 years.

Crump didn’t have to wait long for his second National victory. In 1952, he saddled Teal, ridden, like Sheila’s Cottage, by Arthur Thompson and Wot No Sun, ridden by Dave Dick. On a wet, foggy day, which made visibility poor, and after a false start, Teal and Legal Joy, ridden by Michael Scudamore, emerged from the gloom stride-for-stride at the final fence. However, it was Teal who asserted on the run-in, eventually winning by 5 lengths, with topically-named stablemate Wot No Sun a distant, and rather lucky, third after the fall of Royal Tan at the final fence.

The 1960 Grand National was the first to be televised by the BBC and the last before the fences were modified, just in time for Neville Crump to saddle his third, and final, winner, Merryman II. Owned by Winifred Wallace and ridden by Gerry Scott, Merryman started 13/2 favourite and duly obliged, galloping all over his rivals from some way out and winning by 15 lengths. Scott later became a Jockey Club starter and has the distinction of being the only man to start the National, as well as riding the winner.

Tommy Carberry

Tommy Carberry  Tommy Carberry had the rare distinction of winning the Grand National as a jockey and as a trainer. In fact, he remains one of a select band of just five men – the others being, in chronological order, Algernon Anthony, Aubrey Hastings, Fulke Walwyn and Fred Winter – to have done so since the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1975, Carberry rode L’Escargot – trained by his father-in-law, Dan Moore – on whom he’d finished third in 1973 and second in 1974, to a 15-length win over Red Rum in the Grand National. In so doing, he not only denied the greatest National horse of all time a third consecutive win in the iconic steeplechase, but also became the first jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Grand National and the Irish Grand National in the same season.

Following his retirement as a jockey in 1982, Carberry embarked on a training career and, in 1999, had the satisfaction of saddling Bobbyjo, ridden by his Paul, to win the Grand National again. Despite being 14lb out of the handicap proper, Bobbyjo drew clear on the long run-in to beat Blue Charm by 10 lengths and become the first Irish-trained winner since L’Escargot 24 years earlier.

Following his death, at the age of 75, in 2017, Co. Meath trainer Noel Meade – to whom Paul Carberry was stable jockey during his career – paid tribute to Carberry Snr.. He said, “He was a legend, and a hero of mine from when I was a kid…He was a genius in the saddle, and Paul was very like him.”