Tim Forster

Tim Forster The late Tim Forster OBE – almost invariably known as “Captain Tim Forster” in racing circles – was a renowned pessimist. When asked for advice on how to ride Ben Nevis in the 1980 Grand National, he famously told American amateur rider Charlie Fenwick Jnr. “Keep remounting”. Despite his misgivings, Ben Nevis was left clear by the fall of Delmoss at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit and made the best of his way home to win by 20 lengths at odds of 40/1.

Forster had already trained one National winner, Well To Do in 1972, and in so doing become the first owner-trainer to win the iconic steeplechase since World War II. His third, and final, win in the National came courtesy of 50/1 outsider Last Suspect, owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster and ridden by Hywel Davies, who put up 3lb overweight. Hardly the most resolute steeplechaser in training, Last Suspect only lined up at all because of the persistence of his jockey but, despite fiercely swishing his tail – a tell-tale sign of irritation – came with a withering run to overhaul the leader, Mr. Snugfit, in the shadow of the post and win by 1½ lengths.

Thus, Tim Forster became one of a select band of seven trainers to have won the Grand National three times. Honoured as the “last of the old-school trainers”, Forster died in 1999, at the age of 65, from cancer of the bone marrow, but was nominated for the Grand National Hall of Fame at Aintree Racecourse in 2013.

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.