Films Featuring the Grand National  The history of the Grand National dates back to 1839 and British Pathé News has newsreel footage dating back to ‘Victory’ Grand National – so-called because it was the first to be run at Aintree after the cessation of World War I – in 1919. Newsreel footage of the real Grand National, often accompanied by jaunty background music and a typically British voiceover, is entertaining enough, but over the years the celebrated steeplechase has also provided the subject, or at least the backdrop, for several fictional or fictionalised accounts.


Champions (1984)

Based on the true story of jockey Bob Champion, played by a suitably irascible, not always likeable, John Hurt, and the 1981 Grand National winner, Aldaniti, played by himself. Yes, we know how the story ends, but that doesn’t make it any less inspirational.


Dead Cert (1974)

Adapted from a novel by Dick Francis, with a screenplay co-written by Lord Oaksey – or John Lawrence, as he was known in his riding days – who also acted as technical adviser. A chaotic crime caper, starring a young Judi Dench as Laura Davidson, the widow of Bill Davidson, a jockey killed under suspicious circumstances. A weak plot and poor characterisation made Dead Cert a flop at the box-office but, by contrast, the racing footage – which includes races from Fontwell, as well as the climactic Grand National – is eventful, realistic and compelling.


The Galloping Major (1951)

Based on an idea by, and starring, Basil Radford as retired Major Arthur Hill, who assembles an ensemble of British comic talent – including Joyce Grenfell, Sidney James, Charles Hawtrey, Leslie Phillips and Alfie Bass, to name but a handful – with a view to buying a horse which, more by luck than judgement, turns out to be a Grand National winner. Brisk, entertaining comedy from a talented cast, without being laugh-out-loud funny.


National Velvet (1944)

A whimsical, if overly-sentimental, family film starring 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown, who wins her horse, The Piebald, a.k.a. ‘The Pi’, in a raffle and, with the aid of a youthful Mickey Rooney, trains and rides him to win the Grand National. Escapism for younger viewers, who may not be distracted by the tropical foliage of Uplifters Ranch, Santa Monica, which stood in for Aintree.

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.

Mr Frisk  The 1990 Grand National had the distinction of being the first to be run in under nine minutes – 8 minutes 47.8 seconds, to be precise – and, even after the overall race distance was shortened in 2013, remains the fastest in history. It was also the last renewal to be won by an amateur rider, 25-year-old Marcus Armytage, who partnered the 11-year-old Mr. Frisk to victory, by three-quarters of a length, over Durham Edition.

The winner was something of rarity, insofar as he was a steeplechaser who truly relished firm going; on rattling fast ground at Aintree – parched brown after the driest spring since 1910 – Mr. Frisk was in his element. Having finished a creditable fourth in the Kim Muir Memorial Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on his previous outing, Mr. Frisk was sent off co-sixth choice of the 38 runners at 16/1, behind favourite Brown Windsor at 7/1.

Mr. Frisk was always prominent and, after moving into second place heading out onto the second circuit , was left in the lead when Uncle Merlin, who’d made most of the running, blundered and unseated Hywel Davies at Becher’s Brook. Thereafter, he made the best of his way home and, although challenged by second favourite Durham Edition, ridden by Chris Grant, from the final fence, held on well on the famously long, 494-yard run-in to prevail in a driving finish. His winning time beat the previous course record – set by Red Rum after his epic duel with Crisp in 1973 – by 14 seconds.

Mr. Frisk returned to Aintree for the 1991 Grand National, but, on rain-softened ground, soon weakened and was tailed off when pulled up before Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. Nevertheless, he had already written his name, indelibly, into Grand National folklore and, with the National Course now routinely watered to provide going no faster than ‘good to soft’, his course record may never be beaten.

Corbiere  Corbiere, apparently named after a Jersey lighthouse, had the distinction of being the first Grand National winner trained by a woman. Owned by Bryan Burrough and trained by the inimitable Jenny Pitman, Corbiere may have won the world famous steeplechase on his first attempt, as a eight-year-old, in 1983, but also finished third in 1984 and 1985, behind Hallo Dandy and Last Suspect, respectively, before falling at the fourth fence in 1986 and finishing twelfth, as a twelve-year-old, behind Maori Venture in 1987.

Ridden by Ben de Haan, as he was at Aintree, Corbiere had carried 10st 10lb to victory in the Welsh Grand National , run over 3 miles 5½ furlongs on bottomless going, at Chepstow the December before his first attempt in the National proper. He had subsequently won at Doncaster and finished second in the Ritz Club Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival so, even under 11st 4lb, appeared to have a live chance at Aintree.

On his favoured soft going, Corbiere jumped enthusiastically and raced prominently throughout. He disputed the lead with Hallo Dandy for much of the second circuit, but took a clear lead approaching the twenty-eighth of the thirty fences, at which point his nearest pursuers were the Irish challengers Yer Man, ridden by Val O’Connell, and Greasepaint, ridden by amateur Colin Magnier.

Corbiere led by 3 lengths jumping the final fence, but in the final hundred yards had to withstand a renewed effort from Greasepaint, who’d been under pressure for some way; Corbiere had just enough in reserve to hold on and win by three-quarters of a length. Yer Man finished third, a further two lengths away. Winning jockey Ben de Haan, aged just 23 at the time, later said of Mrs. Pitman, “She likes the job done properly and if it isn’t she doesn’t mind telling you.”