Richard Johnson’s Grand National Story

Credit: Betway

In this revealing Betway interview, Richard Johnson waxes lyrical about what a dream it would be to win the Grand National and for his children to be able to tell their friends he’d done so. He retells the story of some of his most memorable Grand National experiences and of how a 2019 win on Rock The Kabah would ‘complete the set’. Will his Grand National hopes become a reality, or is this prestigious race destined to be ‘the one that got away’ for him?

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.