Becher’s Brook

In the history of the Grand National, no obstacle has caused more controversy than Becher’s Brook. Jumped as the sixth and twenty-second fence on the National Course, Becher’s Brook is named after Martin William Becher, a.k.a. Captain Becher, who was thrown into the brook by his mount, Conrad, during the inaugural running of the Grand National in 1839. In its heyday, Becher’s Brook consisted of a stiff, five-foot high post and rail fence with an eight-foot wide, water-filled ditch beyond and a three-foot drop on the landing side. In fact, it was once likened to ‘jumping off the edge of the world’.

However, Becher’s Brook has been significantly modified, in the name of safety, down the years and, despite being described by the RSPCA as a ‘killer fence’ as recently as 2012, is no longer the formidable obstacle that it once was. Three decades ago the ditch was partially filled in and the fence straightened and, more recently, the landing side of the fence was levelled, on more than one occasion, to make the obstacle more accommodating to horse and rider.

Nevertheless, the apparently innocuous – at least, from the take-off side – 4’10” fence still features a drop of between 5″ and 10″ on the landing side, such that horses descend, steeply, from an effective height of 6’9″. Getting in close and ‘fiddling’ over the fence is not really an option for jockeys, because of the difficulty in keeping horses balanced on landing, so Becher’s Brook remains a daunting obstacle.

Red Marauder

The 2001 renewal of the Grand National was memorable for several reasons. Run with foot-and-mouth precautions in place, in atrocious conditions, the race descended into a gruelling war of attrition, with just four finishers – two of whom were remounted – and a winner who was described by his jockey, Richard Guest, as ‘the worst jumper ever to win a Grand National.’

The winner was, of course, Red Marauder, an unheralded 33/1 chance at the ‘off’, who survived numerous mistakes to come home in splendid isolation, a distance ahead of Smarty. On a wet, windy afternoon, 15 of the 40 starters had already exited the race by the time the field approached the Canal Turn on the first circuit. At that stage, the riderless Paddy’s Return, who had parted company with jockey Adrian Maguire at the third fence, ran down the fence and put to the chances of eight more runners.

Heading out onto the second circuit, just eight runners remained and that number was reduced to three after a further incident at the nineteenth fence and the departure of the well-fancied Beau a fence later. Thereafter, the National effectively became a match between Red Marauder and Smarty; although headed, after another mistake, at the fourth-last fence, Red Marauder took a clear lead

turning for home and was driven out to beat his toiling rival, who stopped to a walk on the run-in. Blowing Wind and Papillon were eventually remounted to finish third and fourth, the proverbial ‘country mile’ behind the first pair.