Richard Pitman

Richard Pitman Richard Pitman, 75, has been involved with the Grand National, in one form or another for over five decades. He is, of course, the erstwhile husband of Jenny Pitman, who became the first woman to train a Grand National winner in 1983. However, Richard had his first ride in the Grand National aboard the 13-year-old Dorimont in 1967. Dorimont had won the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival three years earlier, but was a 100/1 outsider on the day. Replacing the injured William Shand Kydd, the 24-year-old Pitman, by his own admission, “forgot” about the open ditch guarding the third fence and his mount took a crashing fall, long before the mêlée at the twenty-third fence presented Foinavon with the race.

In 1973, Pitman was involved in one of the most famous, and heartbreaking, finishes in Grand National history when Crisp, ridden by Pitman, was caught in the dying strides by Red Rum, ridden by Brian Fletcher, having been 20 lengths ahead jumping Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. “The Black Kangaroo”, as Crisp was affectionately known, was attempting to concede 23lb to Red Rum and, while he may not have won the National, his bold, attacking style won the hearts of the racing public.

Pitman made his first television appearance for the BBC at the Grand National in 1976 and remained part of the team thereafter. He was involved in the coverage of the so-called “National that never was” – in which Esha Ness, trained by Jenny Pitman, was first past the post – in 1993 and the bomb scare, which led to the evacuation of Aintree and the only Monday National, in 1997. In 2018, Pitman featured on a panel of experts on an ITV Grand National Special, which included “The Grand National Race of Champions”; in the virtual race, Crisp finished fourth, behind L’Escargot, Red Rum and Hedgehunter.

Jonjo O’Neill

Jonjo O’Neill Jockey-turned-trainer John Joseph “Jonjo” O’Neill rode eight times in the Grand National, but never completed the course. In fact, he never got beyond Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.

His first ride in the National was aboard Glenkiln, the lesser fancied of two horses owned by Noel Le Mare, in 1973. Glenkiln fell at the Chair, while his stable companion, Red Rum, ridden by Brian Fletcher, pulled off a dramatic, last-gasp victory over the gallant Crisp. O’Neill had some well-fancied rides in the race, including the ill-fated favourites, Rag Trade and Alverton, in 1978 and 1979, respectively, although he later admitted, “Never at any stage did I think I was going to win any of them.”

O’Neill retired as a jockey in 1986, but even joining the training ranks did little, or nothing, to improve his fortune in the Grand National. In 2004, Clan Royal was only headed in the final hundred yards after jockey Liam Cooper lost his whip at the fourth last fence, eventually finishing second, beaten 3 lengths, behind Amberleigh House. In 2005, despite a broken breast girth and slipping saddle, the same horse, ridden by A.P. McCoy, was 6 lengths ahead and travelling ominously well when carried out by a loose horse at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit; Simply Gifted, ridden by Brian Harding, finished third, at 66/1, in the same race.

In total, O’Neill saddled 14 runners in the National without success but, in 2010, his luck changed. Don’t Push It, again ridden by A.P. McCoy was backed into 10/1 joint favourite and, having led over the last, forged clear in the closing stages to beat Black Apalachi by 5 lengths. O’Neill later reflected on the victory, saying, “I think we’ll always remember the magical day he won the Grand National as it was one of the greatest afternoons in the life of myself, [owner] J.P. [McManus] and A.P. as we had all been trying to win the race for so many years”.

Leighton Aspell

Leighton Aspell Many of the best National Hunt jockeys of the modern era, including Jonjo O’Neill, John Francome, Peter Scudamore and even Richard Johnson – who’s ridden more winners than anyone else in the history of the sport, apart from Sir Anthony Peter “A.P.” McCoy – have failed to win the Grand National. Not so Leighton Aspell who, unlike those illustrious names, will never be champion jockey, but has won the National not just once, but twice.

 

Aspell first rode in the National, at the age of 27, in 2003 and later admitted that he was “thrilled to bits” to finish second on 40/1 outsider Supreme Glory, 12 lengths behind the winner, Monty’s Pass. He came a cropper at Becher’s Brook, the Chair and Valentine’s Brook in 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively and, when he pulled up Billyvoddan, who was tailed off at the time, approaching the first open ditch on the second circuit in 2007, his chance of winning the National appeared to be gone forever.

 

Three months later, no longer enjoying racing or going racing, Aspell retired from race riding. However, after working as pupil assistant to Arundel trainer John Dunlop, he began to miss race riding and announced his comeback as a jockey in April, 2009. He didn’t ride in the Grand National until 2011 when, although he completed the course, was beaten the proverbial “country mile” on 66/1 outsider In Compliance, who finished thirteenth of the 19 finishers.

 

However, undeterred, Aspell was back at Aintree three years later, aboard 25/1 chance Pineau De Re, an 11-year-old trained by Dr. Richard Newland. A small, but classy, individual, Pineau De Re made a few jumping errors, but ultimately pulled clear on the run-in to beat Balthazar King by 5 lengths. Aspell said afterwards, “It’s a wonderful day. This is what we do it for.”

 

Lo and behold, Aspell won the Grand National again in 2015, aboard another 25/1 chance, Many Clouds, an 8-year-old trained by Oliver Sherwood. In so doing, he became the first jockey since Brian Fletcher, in 1974 – and just the third since World War II – to win back-to-back Nationals.