Top Novices' Hurdle  As the name suggests, the Top Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, run over 2 miles and 103 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. Open to horses aged four years and upwards who, at the start of the current season, have yet to win over hurdles, the race is currently scheduled for the second day of the three-day Grand National Festival.

The Top Novices’ Hurdle was inaugurated in 1976, awarded Grade 2 status following the revision of the National Hunt Pattern in 1989 and further elevated, to Grade 1 status, in 2016. In its history, two winners – Granville Again (1991) and Buveur D’Air (2016) – have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, while the 2012 winner, Darlan, was ante-post favourite for the two-mile hurdling championship when suffering a fatal fall at Doncaster a month before the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

The position of the Top Novices’ Hurdle in the National Hunt calendar makes it an obvious late-season target for horses that previously contested the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the 2022 winner, Jonbon, for example, finished second at Cheltenham. However, the last horse to win both races was the ill-fated Browne’s Gazette, trained by Michael Dickinson, way back in 1984.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Darlan and Buveur D’Air, also saddled General Miller (2010), My Tent Or Yours (2013), Josses Hill (2014) and Jonbon (2022) to victory for a total of six wins and is the most successul handler in the history of the Top Novices’ Hurdle. Granted his previous record, punters might do well to keep an eye on the Master of Seven Barrows, who appears to have a strong team of novice hurdlers for the 2022/23 season.

Trevor Hemmings  Down the years, Fred Rimmell, Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain and, more recently, Trevor Hemmings have all been nicknamed ‘Mr. Grand National’. In August, 2020, Hemmings announced his decision to reduce the number of horses he had in training, citing the impact of Covid-19 on his personal and business interests. Nevertheless, Hemmings, 85, has already seen his iconic emerald green and yellow quartered colours carried to victory in the Grand National three times, making him, jointly, the most successful owner in the history of the world famous steeplechase.

So far, the octagenarian owner has won the Grand National with Hedgehunter in 2005, Ballabriggs in 2011 and Many Clouds in 2015. Of course, Ballabriggs was trained by Donald McCain Jnr., son of the erstwhile ‘Mr. Grand National’, whom Hemmings had known for years. Hemmings said of McCain Snr., ‘I got on well with Ginger, but he and I would have clashed because he said things he didn’t really mean and he could be bloody-minded.’

Despite a dispersal sale of 56 horses in September, 2020, Hemmings has, by no means, given up on his ambition of owning a record-breaking fourth Grand National winner. In a rare interview in November, 2020, he said, confidently, ‘I will get a fourth [Grand National]; there is no doubt about that.’ He went on to identify Deise Aba and Cloth Cap, fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, as the two of his horses with the most potential in that respect.

Red Marauder  The Grand National in 2001 was run with foot-and-mouth precautions in place but, while strong biosecurity measures were obviously paramount, jockeys in the celebrated steeplechase had more immediate concerns. The race was run on extremely heavy – in fact, nigh on unraceable – ground, with standing water on parts of the National course, and in high winds.

By the time the field reached Becher’s Brook on the first circuit, 11 of the 40 starters had fallen or unseated rider. Three more runners departed at Becher’s Brook and, in scenes reminiscent of 1967, Paddy’s Return, who’d unseated jockey Adrian Maguire five fences earlier, ran down the Canal Turn, effectively taking another eight out of the race. The well-fancied Edmond fell at The Chair but, minus Richard Johnson, caused three of the half a dozen that headed out on the final circuit to refuse or unseat rider at the first open ditch.

So, after 19 of the 30 fences, just three of the 40 starters had survived unscathed. In a blunder at the first fence on the second circuit, though, Carl Llewellyn on the leader, Beau, had ended up with both reins on the same side of the horse. He managed to postpone the inevitable for another two fences, but he was unseated at the twentieth fence, leaving just two to fight out the finish.

Those two were, in racecard order, Red Marauder, trained by permit holder Norman Mason and ridden by Richard Guest, and Smarty, trained by Mark Pitman and ridden by Timmy Murphy. Red Marauder, a 33/1 chance, had fallen at Becher’s Brook on his only previous attempt over the National fences and again made a series of jumping errors. A blunder at the Canal Turn and another mistake at the fourth last fence handed the initiative to his 16/1 rival Smarty, but having been ‘gifted’ a clear lead, Smarty weakened quickly, leaving Red Marauder to saunter home in splendid isolation.

Smarty finished second, beaten a distance, while Blowing Wind and Papillon, who had both been remounted, completed in their own time to finish third and fourth. The winning time, a fraction over 11 minutes, was not the slowest ever recorded, but far and away the slowest of modern times.

Golden Miller  Golden Miller has the distinction of being the only horse in the history of British racing to complete the Cheltenham Gold Cup-Grand National double in the same season. Owned by eccentric millionairess Dorothy Paget, trained by Basil Briscoe and ridden by Gerry Wilson, Golden Miller was, undoubtedly, the most famous steeplechaser of the interwar years. He had unseated previous jockey Ted Leader at the Canal Turn on the second circuit, when still in contention, on his only prior attempt over the National fences in 1933 but, fresh from his third consecutive win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – just 17 days earlier – he started 8/1 second favourite for the 1934 Grand National.

 

 

Despite carrying the welter burden of 12st 2lb, Golden Miller got the better of a titanic struggle with the eventual second, Delaneige, who was receiving 10lb, throughout the final half mile, jumping the last upsides and striding away on the run-in to win by 5 lengths. In so doing, Golden Miller set a new course record of 9 min 20.4 sec, which would stand until smashed by Red Rum 39 years later. The Sporting Life of the day called him “The Finest Chaser of the Century”.

 

 

Golden Miller won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 1935 and, despite carrying top weight of 12st 7lb, was sent off the shortest-priced favourite in the history of the Grand National, at 2/1, to repeat his Aintree heroics. However, Golden Miller propped, as if trying to refuse, approaching the eleventh fence, which has a 6-foot wide ditch on the take-off side and, although he negotiated the obstacle, parted company with Gerry Wilson. Recriminations followed, with Basil Briscoe blaming Wilson for jumping off and Dorothy Paget blaming Briscoe for training her horse too hard. In any event, Wilson lost the ride on Golden Miller and Briscoe requested Paget remove all her horses from his yard shortly afterwards.

 

 

Wilson said later, “I’m convinced The Miller was frightened by what seemed like a mirror glinting in his face. Something startled him.” Certainly, Golden Miller refused at the same fence in 1936 and again in 1937, so his erstwhile jockey may have had a point.