The late Brian Fletcher owes his place in the annals of Grand National primarily to…
Thomas “Tom” Olliver, finished second on Seventy Four in the 1839 Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, now considered the first official running of the Grand National. However, Oliver went on to ride in 19 Grand Nationals, including 17 in a row, between 1839 and 1859. In fact, Oliver held the record for the number of rides in the race until 2015.
Also known – politically incorrectly, by modern standards – as “Black Tom”, because of his swarthy complexion, Olliver was one of the most renowned professional jockeys of his day. He won the National three times, on Gay Lad in 1842, Vanguard in 1843 and Peter Simple in 1953.
In 1843, which was, coincidentally, the first year in which the Grand National became a handicap, Vanguard was carried out by none other than Peter Simple, but continued and eventually beat Nimrod by 3 lengths. Vanguard was given to Olliver, as a gift, by grateful owner Lord Chesterfield and when the horse died Olliver had his skin made into a horsehide sofa.
In 1953, Olliver told the owner of Peter Simple, Captain Joseph “Josey” Little, “sometimes he means it and I don’t; sometimes I means it and he don’t, but today we both mean it!” He was right, too, steering Peter Simple to a 4-length win over Miss Mowbray which, as a 15-year-old, made him by far the oldest horse ever to win the Grand National.
After victory on Peter Simple, Olliver declared,“I was born and bred hopelessly insolvent”; he was, in fact, the son of a Spanish smuggler but, off the course, was renowned for his generosity, not to mention his promiscuity, and was imprisoned more than once for indebtedness. A highly popular figure, all the same, Tom Olliver fully deserves his place in the Grand National Hall of Fame.