Graham Lee

Graham Lee  Nowadays, 42-year-old Irishman is known exclusively as a Flat jockey. Indeed, at the time of writing, he lies thirty-ninth in the Stobart Flat Jockeys’ Championship with 19 winners. However, in his earlier days, Lee was a highly successful National Hunt jockey, riding over 1,000 winners and famously winning the Grand National on Amberleigh House, trained by Donald “Ginger” McCain, in 2004.

 

In fact, Lee rode in the National eight times between 2003 and 2011, missing out just once, in 2008, when he gave up the ride on Idle Talk, trained by Donald McCain Jnr., after failing to recover sufficiently from a fractured jaw sustained in February that year. At the time, Lee said, “I’m going to sit tight, but it’s going to kill me that I’m missing it.”

 

Lee rode Amberleigh House in four successive Nationals, finishing third to Monty’s Pass in 2003, winning in 2004, finishing tenth behind Hedgehunter in 2005 and pulling up at the fence before Becher’s Brook on the second circuit in 2006. Lee fondly remembered his National winner, saying, “He was very small for an Aintree horse, but he loved the place. He was only 15.2 hands, but would grow a hand for just seeing an Aintree fence. He never made a single mistake in the National.”

 

Indeed, in four subsequent Nationals, Lee completed the course just once more, on Big Fella Thanks, trained by Ferdy Murphy, who finished seventh behind Ballabriggs in 2011 on his last ride in the race. Lee switched to Flat racing in 2012, citing weight issues – in his case, struggling to keep weight on, rather than take it off – as his reason for doing so.

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.

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.

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.”

John Thorne

John Thorne  The late John Thorne, was tragically killed in a point-to-point fall in 1982, will always be remembered as the amateur rider who, at the age of 54, nearly fulfilled his lifelong ambition of winning the Grand National. Thorne was, of course, the jockey of Spartan Missile, the horse who finished second to Aldaniti in the 1981 Grand National. Champion jockey John Francome offered to take to take the mount in the National, but Thorne declined, opting to come out of retirement to ride Spartan Missile himself, at 3lb overweight.

Whether Francome could have won on Spartan Missile, who was eventually beaten 4 lengths, has been hotly debated over the years. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Thorne bred, owned and trained the horse, not to mention having ridden him to victory in Fox Hunters’ Chase at Aintree, over the National fences, so had every right to ride him in the National.

Spartan Missile was a big, strong, powerful horse and a good jumper, characteristics which made him the leading hunter chaser of his day and, arguably, of all time. He started 8/1 favourite for the 1981 Grand National, although Thorne insisted that the bookmakers were taking an “exaggerated view” of his chances. In any event, the “old bloke” – as Jenny Pitman derogatorily called Thorne when discussing the race – had the ride of his life in the National.

Although hampered, more than once, and left lying out of his ground from Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit, Spartan Missile gradually crept into the race and jumped the final fence in third place behind Aldaniti and Royal Mail. Halfway up the run-in Thorne conjured a “storming finish” from the nine-year-old but, despite closing to within 2 lengths of Aldaniti at one point, Spartan Missile had to settle for second place.