Notwithstanding his victory in the 2002 Grand National – which, of course, was a fabulous…
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.