50-1 shot Noble Yeats showing them how it’s done!
In the history of the Grand National, no obstacle has caused more controversy than Becher’s Brook. Jumped as the sixth and twenty-second fence on the National Course, Becher’s Brook is named after Martin William Becher, a.k.a. Captain Becher, who was thrown into the brook by his mount, Conrad, during the inaugural running of the Grand National in 1839. In its heyday, Becher’s Brook consisted of a stiff, five-foot high post and rail fence with an eight-foot wide, water-filled ditch beyond and a three-foot drop on the landing side. In fact, it was once likened to ‘jumping off the edge of the world’.
However, Becher’s Brook has been significantly modified, in the name of safety, down the years and, despite being described by the RSPCA as a ‘killer fence’ as recently as 2012, is no longer the formidable obstacle that it once was. Three decades ago the ditch was partially filled in and the fence straightened and, more recently, the landing side of the fence was levelled, on more than one occasion, to make the obstacle more accommodating to horse and rider.
Nevertheless, the apparently innocuous – at least, from the take-off side – 4’10” fence still features a drop of between 5″ and 10″ on the landing side, such that horses descend, steeply, from an effective height of 6’9″. Getting in close and ‘fiddling’ over the fence is not really an option for jockeys, because of the difficulty in keeping horses balanced on landing, so Becher’s Brook remains a daunting obstacle.
Beforehand, the 2021 Grand National was all about Cloth Cap, who was officially 14lb ‘well in’ at the weights and, consequently, sent off 11/2 favourite to become a record-breaking fourth winner of the Aintree showpiece for owner Trevor Hemmings. However, despite apparently having everything in his favour, Cloth Cap weakened quickly after stumbling at the fourth-last fence as was soon pulled up. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill later reported that Cloth Cap made an abnormal respiratory noise.
Long-time leader Jett surrendered the lead on the home turn, leaving a bevy of Irish-trained horses, headed by the eventual winner, Minella Times, to fight out the finish. At the second-last fence, Minella Times led, narrowly, from stable companion Balko Des Flos, Burrows Saint and the staying on Any Second Now, but extended his advantage at the final fence. Approaching the ‘Elbow’, Minella Times was about 4 lengths ahead and was ridden out to win by 6½ lengths. He was followed home by Balko Des Flos, Any Second Now, Burrows Saint and Farclas, as Irish-trained horses filled the first five places.
Minella Times was a second Grand National winner for owner J.P. McManus, after Don’t Push It in 2010, and a first for trainer Henry de Bromhead. However, his name is etched, indelibly, into the record books alongside that of Rachael Blackmore, who created history by becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National.