The late Brian Fletcher owes his place in the annals of Grand National primarily to…
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.