Peter Bromley, who was the voice of racing on BBC Radio for 40 years between…
The late Brian Fletcher owes his place in the annals of Grand National primarily to his association with Red Rum, the most successful horse in the history of the famous race, whom he rode to victory in 1973 and 1974. However, Fletcher had his first ride in the Grand National, as a 19-year-old, in the infamous renewal of 1967, won by Foinavon. At one stage, Fletcher lost his mount, Red Alligator, altogether in the melee at the twenty-third fence, but eventually remounted, jumped the fence at the third attempt and finished a distant third.
Fletcher said later, “…I would have won the race if I had had a clear run.” His comment appeared justified because the following year he rode Red Alligator to a 20-length victory over Moidore’s Token. Fletcher rode Red Alligator in the Grand National again in 1969 and 1970, but failed to complete the course on both occasions. In 1971, Fletcher failed to complete the course again; his mount, The Inventor, refused at the fourth last fence.
The following year, at Stockton Racecourse, sustained a broken arm and a fractured skull in a fall in a novices’ chase. He lay unconscious for ten days and was sidelined for ten months in all but, against medical advice, regained his licence and resumed race-riding.
In the absence of Tommy Stack, who was unavailable, Fletcher was asked to ride Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National by trainer Donald “Ginger” McCain. The footage of Red Rum and Fletcher catching the gallant Crisp, who’d been 30 lengths ahead at one stage, in the shadow of the winning post has been shown over and over again. Red Rum and Fletcher repeated the feat in 1974, with a convincing win over L’Escargot, and went very close to completing a unique treble in 1975, when only giving best to the same horse.
Of course, Red Rum would go on to complete an unprecedented treble in Grand National, but was ridden on that occasion by Tommy Stack. By that time, though, Fletcher had not only lost the ride on Red Rum after an acrimonious falling out with McCain, but actually retired from riding on health grounds.