Spartan Missile

Spartan Missile Spartan Missile never won the Grand National, but was the outstanding hunter chaser of his day and won the Fox Hunters’ Chase, over 2 miles 5 furlongs on the National Course, twice, in 1978 and 1979. Bred, owned, trained and ridden by 54-year-old amateur John Thorne, Spartan Missile returned from a year out through injury to contest the 1981 Grand National, for which he started 8/1 favourite.

In order to fulfil his dream of riding a National winner, Thorne came out of retirement to take the ride on Spartan Missile and wasted down to 11st 5lb, or just 3lb overweight. In the 1981 National, Spartan Missile lost his place following a blunder at the first fence on the second circuit, but crossing the Melling Road for the final time had moved back up into fifth place, although he still appeared to have no chance of catching the leaders, Aldaniti and Royal Mail.

A bad mistake at the second last fence knocked the stuffing out of Royal Mail, but passing the furlong marker, just as Aldaniti appeared to have the race in safe keeping, Spartan Missile appeared on the scene, putting in what BBC commentator Peter O’Sullevan called “a storming finish”. Sadly for Thorne and Spartan Missile it was not to be; Aldaniti, ridden by Bob Champion, stayed on well to win by 4 lengths for a fairytale triumph. Tragically, John Thorne was killed in a fall from a young horse at Bicester point-to-point less than a year after riding Spartan Missile in the Grand National.

Marcus Armytage

Marcus Armytage 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.

Golden Miller

Golden Miller Owned by trainer Basil Briscoe, Philip Carr and, finally, the Honourable Dorothy Paget, Golden Miller has the distinction of being the most successful horse in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The horse once described by racing journalist Sidney Galtrey as “a god on four legs” won the Blue Riband event at the Cheltenham Festival five years running between 1932 and 1936.

However, fresh from his third Cheltenham Gold Cup win, in 1934, Golden Miller also won the Grand National and remains the only horse ever to have won both races in a single season. Trained by Basil Briscoe and ridden by Gerry Wilson, Golden Miller won the National by 5 lengths from Delaneige in a time of 9 minutes 20.4 seconds. In so doing, he broke the course record, of 9 minutes 30.0 seconds, set by The Huntsman in 1862; his winning time wouldn’t be beaten until 1974, when Red Rum beat Crisp in a time of 9 minutes 1.9 seconds.

It’s often said that the Grand National is the supreme test of horse and rider and, despite winning in 1934, Golden Miller failed to complete the National Course on four other occasions. On his first attempt, as a six-year-old, in 1993, he fell at the Canal Turn on the second circuit. In 1935, he was sent off the shortest-priced favourite in the history of the race, despite carrying 12st 7lb, but unseated rider Gerry Wilson at the fence after Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit. In 1936, trained by Owen Anthony and ridden by Evan Williams after Dorothy Paget fell out with previous trainer Basil Briscoe, he fell at the Canal Turn on the first circuit and in 1937 he refused at the same fence where he’d unseated Gerry Wilson two years earlier.