Toby Balding

Toby Balding The late Gerald “Toby” Balding, who died in 2014 at the age of 78, had the distinction of winning the Grand National twice, with Highland Wedding in 1969 and Little Polveir in 1989. Indeed, in his long and distinguished career, he saddled over 2,000 winners, including Beech Road and Morley Street in the Champion Hurdle, in 1989 and 1991, respectively, and Cool Ground in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1992.

His first Grand National winner, Highland Wedding, had completed the National Course twice before, finishing eighth behind Anglo in 1966 and seventh behind Red Alligator in 1986. He arrived at Aintree in 1969 fresh from his third victory in four years – the 1968 renewal was abandoned – in the Eider Chase, over 4 miles and 122 yards at Newcastle in February and, in the absence of regular jockey Owen McNally, was ridden by Eddie Harty.

By now a 12-year-old, Highland Wedding was known to be as stubborn as a mule, on occasions, at home, but as Balding later explained, “He wasn’t a villain, just a bit independent so there was no question of us bullying him. We just had to wait for him.” In any event, on firm going, Highland Wedding consented to put his best foot forward and came home 12 lengths ahead of 50/1 outsider Steel Chance, ridden by Richard Pitman.

Little Polveir, too, had previous experience of the National Course, having finished ninth behind West Tip in 1986, but had fallen at the Chair and unseated his rider at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit in two subsequent attempts. He didn’t join Toby Balding until January, 1989, but was ridden on his first two starts by young amateur rider Philip Fenton which, according to his trainer, “he enjoyed enormously after the pros had knocked lumps out of him in the past”.

Ridden in the National by professional Jimmy Frost, at 3lb overweight, Little Polveir took the lead at the final fence on the first circuit, the water jump, and led, or disputed the lead, for the rest of the way. In fact, after Becher’s Brook second time around he was never headed and, with a riderless horse for company, came home 7 lengths ahead of West Tip. Balding said later, “I don’t think any of my horses ever left for the races in better shape than Little Polveir as he headed for Aintree.”

The Story of Charlotte Brew’s Grand National

In the above video, Betway ambassador Katie Walsh takes us through a brief history of female jockeys in the Grand National. Charlotte Brew was where it all began, so let’s take a closer look at her life and how it paved the way for other women in sport.

In days gone by, the Grand National had little to do with women. Considering the inaugural running of the Grand National was in 1839, there have been many opportunities for the fairer sex to shine as a trainer or jockey.

It’s a sad fact that it took almost 140 years for a female jockey to take part in the Grand National. 1977 wasn’t simply an iconic year because Red Rum won his third National for Ginger McCain. It was important because Charlotte Brew and her gelding Barony Fort made history by taking part in the most famous steeplechase in the world. Horse and rider got as far as the 27th fence before refusing to jump, just four obstacles from the finishing line.

It was a tremendous effort which paved the way for a new generation – female jockeys.

Brew made her own opportunities. She wasn’t given the ride because Barony Fort was her horse. In fact, it is questionable whether she would have been given a ride without this factor. Back in the 1970s, thoroughbred horse trainers were predominantly men. And, to be fair, many trainers held the opinion that the Grand National was no place for a women.

However, times were changing and the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act helped bring equality that could be questioned by law. It was no longer a matter of opinion. Especially a man’s decision of whether a female jockey should compete.

Equality gave opportunity.

Brew used the very system than may have been used to sideline her to compete. She qualified for the Grand National by finishing fourth in the 1976 Fox Hunters Chase, run over the same obstacles. She proved that woman and horse where equal to any challenge.

For many jockeys the battle to win the Grand National is the ultimate goal.

For female jockeys it took over a century to get to the start line let alone the finish.

Geraldine Rees made history in 1982 when she rode Cheers to complete the Grand National in 8th place. She was the first female jockey to complete the 4m 3 1/2f and 30 fences.

The first female jockey to complete this historic race from 1977 – 1989.

Thirteen horses and female jockeys attempted this gruelling challenge and her mount either refused, pulled-up or fell at a fence.

They weren’t deterred.

In 2012, Katie Walsh rode the favourite Seabass who completed the course in third place. A historic moment. As Walsh says: ‘It’s only a matter of time before a female jockey wins the Grand National.’

It will be a day that all who believe in equality savour.

The first female jockey to win the Grand National. It’s a reality – not just a dream.

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.