Rough Quest

Rough Quest Owned by Andrew Wates, trained by Terry Casey and ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, Rough Quest won the Grand National in 1996 and, in so doing, became the first winning favourite since Grittar in 1982. The 10-year-old had his stamina to prove, having previously never won beyond 3 miles 1 furlong, but had finished 19 lengths clear of the third horse when second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup two weeks previously and consequently looked well handicapped under just 10st 7lb.


Fizgerald was having just his second ride in the race, after coming a cropper at the first fence on Tinryland the previous year but, having made steady headway throughout the second circuit, he produced the favourite to tackle the leader, Encore Un Peu, in the final 200 yards. As he took the lead, though, Rough Quest hung left, towards the inside running rail, slightly hampering the eventual runner-up. David Bridgwater, the jockey aboard Encore Un Peu, momentarily snatched up – somewhat theatrically, in the eyes of most observers – so, although Rough Quest stayed on to win by 1¼ lengths, a stewards’ inquiry was almost inevitable.


Having emerged, unscathed, from what is often billed as “the ultimate test of horse and rider in National Hunt racing”, Rough Quest and Mick Fitzgerald then had to survive a 10-minute stewards’ inquiry into possible interference in the closing stages. The general consensus was that the result would stand, which it did. Afterwards, Fitzgerald couldn’t wait to tell anyone who was listening, “I’ve not enjoyed nine minutes so much for a long time. Sex would be an anticlimax after that.”

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West Tip

West Tip West Tip, owned by Peter Luff and trained by Michael Oliver, ran in the Grand National six times, winning once, in 1986, and finishing in the first four on three other occasions. Having won what is now the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 1985, the son of Gala Performance was sent off joint favourite for the Grand National and was in the lead when crumpling on landing at Becher’s Brook and parting company with a then 21-year-old Richard Dunwoody. Nevertheless, the partnership returned to Aintree in 1986 and West Tip, who started outright favourite, made amends for his previous faux pas, mastering Young Driver on the run-in to win by 2 lengths.


West Tip ran in the Grand National for the next four years running, finishing fourth behind Maori Venture in 1987 and occupying the same position behind Rhyme ‘N’ Reason in 1988, before finishing second, as a 12-year-old, to Little Polveir in 1989. On his last appearance in the National, in 1990, West Tip was ridden by Philip Hobbs, with Richard Dunwoody preferring the well-fancied Bigsun, on whom he put up 2lb overweight. Bigsun finished a well-beaten sixth behind the winner, Mr. Frisk, with West Tip even further behind in tenth.


West Tip made his final racecourse appearance, aged 14, in the Christies Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March 1991. After a happy retirement, West Tip died in 2001 at the age of 24. Richard Dunwoody said of him, “I owe him an awful lot; no other horse contributed to my career like he did.”

Obstacle Illusions: Grand National Fences

Obstacle Illusions: Grand National Fences To the casual observer, the fences on the Grand National course at Aintree may appear as formidable as ever but, in terms of construction, they are considerably less robust, and more forgiving, than was once the case. The National still range in height from 4’6” to 5’2” but, in most cases, are no longer supported by a rigid, timber frame, but rather by an inner core of pliable, plastic birch, 18” in height. The inner core of the fences known as Westhead, Booth and The Chair, all of which are open ditches, is still composed of traditional, real birch but, even so, they are more flexible and less hazardous to horses who fail to jump them cleanly.

While betting firms  have got you covered for horse racing tips for every race going, what the Grand National fences are covered in, is a story in its own right!  The National fences are still covered with distinctive Norway, or Sitka, Spruce, to a minimum depth of 14”. Nevertheless, the height of the orange-painted toe board, situated at the base of each fence on the take-off side to provide a clear ground line for horse and jockey, has also been increased to 14”. Likewise, solid timber guard rails – one of which ended the career of Arkle, probably the greatest steeplechaser in history – have long been replaced with padded PVC foam alternatives. The principal function of the guard rail is to keep the spruce apron of the fence in place but, at Aintree, guard rails were typically set very low on the ‘belly’ of the fences such that, at certain obstacles, horses could see into the ditch beyond, with unpredictable results. Raising the guard rails, to approximately one-third of the way up the fence, has improved visibility and safety in that respect.

It can, and has been, argued that removing the solid timber core of the National fences allows horses to jump lower – say 3’ as opposed to 3’6” – and faster, than before, thereby increasing the risk of injury if they do fall. Opinions differ as to whether horses that run in the Grand National consciously realise that they can ‘get away with’ hitting the top of the more forgiving fences, but jockeys certainly do. However, any danger of jockeys, as one veteran trainer put it, ‘winging round’ the National course has been alleviated, in part, by routinely watering to produce going no faster than ‘good to soft’ and that fact has been reflected in recent winning times. Indeed, with no fatalities in the Grand National since 2012, it is difficult to argue that the modifications to the fences have not improved the world famous steeplechase.