Ironically, the seventh fence on the Grand National Course at Aintree, now known as “Foinavon”, is the smallest on the course, measuring 4 feet 6 inches high by 3 feet wide. Of course, it does immediately follow Becher’s Brook, arguably the most thrilling fence in the world of steeplechasing, so can surprise horse and rider. However, the incident from which the obstacle took its name, which occurred during the 1967 Grand National, had little or nothing to do with the characteristics of the fence or is position on the racecourse.
In fact, it had everything to do with the antics of the riderless Popham Down who, after being brought down at the first fence, ran down the fence on the second circuit, thereby triggering a melee which none, bar 100/1 outsider Foinavon, survived. A breathless Michael O’Hehir, commentating for the BBC, described the shambles, saying, “Rutherfords has been hampered, and so has Castle Falls; Rondetto has fallen, Princeful has fallen, Norther has fallen, Kirtle Lad has fallen, The Fossa has fallen, there’s a right pile-up.”
Almost all of the 28 runners still standing fell, were brought down or were badly hampered, but Foinavon, ridden by John Buckingham, safely negotiated the obstacle on the outside and continued on his way. O’Hehir added, “…and, now, with all this mayhem, Foinavon has gone off on his own. He’s about fifty, a hundred, yards in front of everything else.”
Buckingham was apparently unaware of the situation, but carried on regardless and by the next fence, the Canal Turn, was the best part of a furlong in front. Several horses, including the favourite, Honey End, ridden by Josh Gifford, were remounted and set off in vain pursuit. However, despite making significant headway over the final seven fences, Honey End was never going to catch Foinavon, who crossed the line 15 lengths in front.
The winner returned to a stunned winners’ enclosure, from which owner Cyril Watkins and trainer John Kempton were both notable by their absence. In 1984, the Aintree Racecourse Executive officially named the seventh fence, hitherto known simply as “the fence after Becher’s”, “Foinavon”, in honour of one of the unlikeliest victories in the history of the Grand National.