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”.

Vincent O’Brien

Vincent O’Brien  The late Vincent O’Brien, who died in 2009 at the age of 92, achieved unsurpassed success in horse racing, both National Hunt and Flat. Before he turned his attention to training on the Flat in the late 1950s, he’d already won the Grand National three times in succession, with three different horses.

Impressive though his Grand National record is, O’Brien was arguably unlucky not to have won the world famous steeplechase more often. His first runner in the race, Royal Tan, ridden by his brother, Phonsie, in 1951, finished second to Nickel Coin after nearly unseating his rider at the final fence. In 1952, the same horse unseated Phonsie O’Brien at the same fence when clear third behind Teal and Legal Joy.

In any event, O’Brien recorded is first National win in 1953 with the eight-year-old Early Mist, owned, like Royal Tan, by Joe Griffin and ridden by Bryan Marshall. Early Mist had fallen at the first fence in the 1952 Grand National, when trained by Jimmy Rank, but O’Brien told “Mincemeat Joe”, as his owner was affectionately known, that his horse could win the race in 1953. Griffin backed Early Mist to win £100,000 and duly collected after the 20/1 chance led for most of the second circuit and won by 20 lengths from Mont Tremblant.

Royal Tan, who had been absent during the 1952/53 season with leg trouble, finally came good over the National fences in 1954. Bryan Marshall rode a superb waiting race on the ten-year-old, delaying his challenge until the final fence, and although Tudor Line, ridden by George Slack, closed all the way up the run-in Royal Tan held on to win by a neck.

O’Brien won his third, and final, National in 1955 with Quare Times, owned by Cecily Welman and ridden by Pat Taafe. The nine-year-old had won his first race, the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, in 1954 and was one of four entries from the yard, which also included Early Mist and Royal Tan. However, Quare Times was the only one to appreciate the heavy going, made so by torrential rain – which nearly caused the abandonment of the race – and strode clear in the closing stages to beat the luckless Tudor Line by 12 lengths.

Neville Crump

Neville Crump  Neville Franklin Crump was one of the most successful trainers of staying steeplechasers in the period immediately following World War II. He was National Hunt Champion Trainer twice, in 1951/52 and 1956/57, and, with the notable exception of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, won all the major staying chases in the British National Hunt calendar. When he retired from the training ranks in 1989, he had won the Grand National three times, the Scottish Grand National five times, the Welsh National twice and the Whitbread Gold Cup – now, of course, the Bet365 Gold Cup – three times.

Crump saddled his first National winner, Sheila’s Cottage, in 1948, a little over a decade after first taking out a training licence. Owned by John Procter, Sheila’s Cottage apparently had her own ideas about the game but, on a balmy summer day, was on her best behaviour at Aintree, tackling long-time leader First Of The Dandies on the famously long run-in to win by a length at odds of 50/1. In so doing, she became the first mare to win the National for 46 years.

Crump didn’t have to wait long for his second National victory. In 1952, he saddled Teal, ridden, like Sheila’s Cottage, by Arthur Thompson and Wot No Sun, ridden by Dave Dick. On a wet, foggy day, which made visibility poor, and after a false start, Teal and Legal Joy, ridden by Michael Scudamore, emerged from the gloom stride-for-stride at the final fence. However, it was Teal who asserted on the run-in, eventually winning by 5 lengths, with topically-named stablemate Wot No Sun a distant, and rather lucky, third after the fall of Royal Tan at the final fence.

The 1960 Grand National was the first to be televised by the BBC and the last before the fences were modified, just in time for Neville Crump to saddle his third, and final, winner, Merryman II. Owned by Winifred Wallace and ridden by Gerry Scott, Merryman started 13/2 favourite and duly obliged, galloping all over his rivals from some way out and winning by 15 lengths. Scott later became a Jockey Club starter and has the distinction of being the only man to start the National, as well as riding the winner.