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.