The Grand National. There’s no race quite like it. The bumper field of 40 entries, the treacherous Aintree course and its 30 fences which have to be jumped over two laps of the mammoth distance of four miles and two-and-a-half-furlongs. It’s where we’ve seen champions made and the legends live on, but also where many a horse has fallen.
Over the years, we’ve witnessed some thrilling races, victories against the odds, and memorable moments. With the Grand National 2021 odds available and the race set to go ahead on April 10th, let’s take a look back at some of the best stories from the last couple of decades at Aintree’s blue riband event.
2000: Ruby Walsh wins at first attempt
The legendary jockey was just 20 years old when he entered his first Grand National. Riding the 20/1 chance Papillon for his father Ted, the duo became the second father-son team to win the National, emulating the feat set by Paul and Tommy Carberry a year previous. It also marked back-to-back wins for Irish-bred horses, with Bobbyjo winning in 1999 after a barren spell of 25 years without a win. Walsh was ecstatic after the race, as he made his way to the winner’s enclosure – and it marked the first of two wins in the Aintree centrepiece.
2001: Only four horses complete the race
The 2001 edition of the National will always be remembered. Not only did it manage to go ahead after the Foot and Mouth outbreak had previously brought horseracing to a standstill, but adverse weather conditions meant the going was heavy. That said, eight horses fell by the third fence, and one of those, Paddy’s Return went on to play havoc with the rest of the field – bringing down several runners at the Canal Turn, with only 13 entries remaining. At one point there were only two horses remaining, but AP McCoy and Walsh both managed to remount – and so four finished the race. The winner was Red Marauder, ridden by Richard Guest.
2007: Inexperience counts for nothing
The jockey-trainer combo of Robbie Power and Gordon Elliott were among the youngest and most inexperienced in Grand National history – with just one appearance between them. And 33/1 outsider Silver Birch who was previously bought for 50,000 guineas became the latest Irish-bred winner. It was Elliott’s first Grand National entry, and at 29 years of age, became the youngest trainer to win. After the race, he said how much it meant:
“We are a young chain, I haven’t had my licence for 12 months yet, so hopefully we can get going a bit. We are going to enjoy tonight.”
2010: Lucky 15 for AP McCoy
And while the likes of Walsh and Elliott won the blue riband race at the first attempt, for AP McCoy, he landed his first win in 2010 – after 14 previous races! He had made his National debut in 1995, with three third-place finishes his best result prior to success on the joint-favourite, Don’t Push It – despite the fact he had already raced over 3,000 winners! The 10/1 shot jumped the last fence level with Black Apalachi (14/1), but managed to pull away and win by five lengths. And, understandably, McCoy was emotional at the finish:
“I’m being a big wuss. It means everything to me to win the Grand National,” he said, before continuing:
“I’ve won lots of big races and I’m supposed to be a good jockey, but to not win the Grand National would be a bit of a negative on the CV.”
2012: Neptune Collonges – by a nose
The Grand National is often dramatic, due to the nature of the course, but the 2012 edition was even more thrilling – as a photo finish was needed to determine the winner. And Neptune Collonges, ridden by Daryl Jacob, and trained by Paul Nicholls became the third (and most recent) grey to win the National. The 33/1 outside chance sealed a dramatic victory, winning by a nose. The more-fancied 16/1 shout, Sunnyhillboy tussled with the victor going into the straight and 100 yards from the end, the former had a one-length lead over his rival. But Jacob fought to the finish, to provide a thrilling finale – and the closest ever finish to a Grand National.