Not the kind of publicity that racing needs. Despite his Grand National successes, this is very bad form by Gordon Elliot.
Author: G C
Although the horses still travelled the same distance as the previous year, the 2016 Grand National was the first to be run over an advertised distance of 4 miles, 2 furlongs and 74 yards, after every National Hunt racecourse in the country was professionally surveyed and re-measured. The race also featured an etraordinary winner, in the form of Rule The World, who was a maiden after 13 starts over fences, dating back to November, 2014 and, hence still a novice. The aptly-named nine-year-old thus became the first maiden to win the National since Voluptuary in 1884 and the first novice since Mr. What in 1958.
Rule The World was the first Grand National winner for Gigginstown House Stud, but his victory was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he twice recovered from a cracked pelvis earlier in his career. Winning trainer Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris hailed him as ‘a horse of iron’, while winning owner Michael O’Leary was no less generous in his praise, saying that he ‘could have been Gold Cup standard’ but for his previous injuries.
Ridden by 19-year-old David Mullins, having his first ride in the National, Rule The World was sent off at 33/1, but travelled well, just behind the leaders, before making a shuddering error at the final open ditch. Nevertheless, he made headway into a close third at the final fence and, switched to the outside, challenged passing the famous ‘Elbow’, halfway up the run-in. In a thrilling finish, he came home strongest of all, to win by 6 lengths from The Last Samurai, with Vics Canvas 8 lengths further behind in third place. Rule The World ran just once more, finishing a respectable sixth in the Grade One Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown just over a fortnight later, but his retirement was confirmed the following month.
The War National, or ‘War National Steeplechase’ to give the race its full title, was the name given to two of the three renewals of a substitute ‘Grand National’ run at Gatwick Racecourse during World War I. Built as a replacement for Croydon Racecourse, on land beside the London to Brighton railway line – nowadays occupied by Gatwick Airport – Gatwick Racecourse opened in 1891. In 1916, with Aintree requisitioned by the War Office, the first substitute ‘National’, known as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ was run on a specially constructed, albeit right-handed, course at Gatwick over the Grand National Distance.
The following year, the fences were stiffened somewhat and the inaugural War National Steeplechase, run on heavy going, was won by Ballymacad, ridden by Edmund ‘Ernie’ Driscoll. The second, and final, renewal of the War National Steeplechase was staged at Gatwick in 1918 and was won by Poethlyn, ridden by Ernest ‘Ernie’ Piggott, grandfather of Lester. Poethlyn went on to jusify 11/4 favouritism in the 1919 renewal of the Grand National, back at Aintree, thereby becoming the shortest-priced winner in the history of the race.
Gatwick Racecourse is, of course, long gone, having staged its final fixture on the day after German forces entered Paris during World War II. However, in 2017, Gatwick Airport marked the centenary of the inaugural War National by installing authentic jockey scales, on which passengers could weigh their luggage, in the South Terminal.