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.

Marcus Armytage

Marcus Armytage  Nowadays, Old Etonian Marcus Armytage is best known as racing correspondent for The Daily Telegraph but, in his younger days, was a highly accomplished amateur rider. Armytage, 55, rode 100 winners worldwide between 1981 and 2000, but the most famous of them was undoubtedly Mr Frisk in the 1990 Grand National. The unseasonably firm going, made so by a prolonged period of dry weather, was perfect for Mr Frisk and Armytage apparently told his sister, Gee, “If I don’t win this today, I’ll never win it.”

 

The 16/1 chance raced prominently for most of the way and was left in front when the erstwhile leader, Uncle Merlin, fell at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. He held a 10-length lead jumping the fourth last fence, but Durham Edition made relentless progress throughout the last half mile and by the Elbow, halfway up the famously long run-in at Aintree, had just about reached his quarters. However, despite Durham Edition making ground all the time on the stands’ side, Mr Frisk held on to win by three-quarters of a length. His winning time, of 8 minutes 47.80 seconds, smashed the previous course record, of 9 minutes 1.90 seconds, set by Red Rum in 1973, and remains the fastest winning time in National history, despite the overall distance being shortened in 2013.

Armytage became just one of five amateur riders to win the Grand National since World War II, the others being Captain Bobby Petrie on Lovely Cottage in 1946, Tommy Smith on Jay Trump in 1965, Charlie Fenwick on Ben Nevis in 1980 and Dick Saunders on Grittar in 1982. Nowadays, tighter regulations prevent gung-ho “gentleman riders”, such as the legendary Duke of Albuquerque, from risking life and limb in the Grand National, so amateur jockeys are a rarity compared with the days of yesteryear.

Michael Scudamore

Michael Scudamore  The late Michael Scudamore was, of course, the patriarch of a notable racing dynasty. His son, Peter, was National Hunt Champion Jockey eight times between 1981/82 and 1991/92 and is now assistant to Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell, while his grandsons, Tom and Michael Jnr., also maintain the family tradition, as a jockey and trainer, respectively.

However, after a public vote, Michael Scudamore was inducted into the Grand National Hall of Fame at Aintree Racecourse in 2012 by virtue of having ridden in the race 16 times, consecutively, between 1951 and 1966. He won the National just once, on Oxo, an eight-year-old bay gelding owned by John Big and trained by Willie Stephenson, in 1959.

Scudamore recalled that Tim Brookshaw, the jockey of Wyndburgh, shouted across that he’d broken a stirrup leather at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. However, Brookshaw kicked his other foot out of the stirrup and rode the remainder of the race – which still involved negotiating eight more fences, including the Canal Turn and Valentine’s Brook – with no irons at all. The bold move almost paid off because Wyndburgh, who’d looked beaten at the final fence, rallied gamely on the long run-in and was eventually only beaten 1½ lengths.

Scudamore and Oxo, meanwhile, nearly came a cropper at the final fence, with the jockey forced to ride at the buckle end of the reins to keep the partnership intact. Scudamore, though, held Oxo together brilliantly well in the closing stages, despite the sound of thundering hooves creeping closer and closer. He later recalled, “I could hear Tim and Wyndburgh behind me all the time. It seemed a long time from the final fence to the finish.”