Well, I mean it actually is 2021, but in comparison to the 2020 Grand National which was a ‘virtual’ affair it’s certainly time to party this time around. Granted this year’s Grand National won’t have roaring Aintree on-course crowds, but it is at least taking place, and indeed shaping up to be something special. With expected TV audiences worldwide into the hundreds of millions, racing fans are primed to see if one of (if not ‘the’, by time of the race) the shortest priced Grand National horses ever can claim the win. Cloth Cap, set to be ridden by Tom Scudamore, is just 7/2 with several bookmakers. Confidence from punters comes from an impressive season which includes winning the Ladbrokes Trophy, and with a low weight he’s an obvious choice.
In our embedded Betway video, Katie Walsh (a high achiever in the event in her own right), discusses the challenges that women jockeys faced (and still face!) to gain recognition in the Grand National. With plenty of obstacles in their path (even Ginger McCain said of Carrie Ford, that the race was ‘no place for a woman’ – she finished an impressive 5th) it ‘s been a tough road, but Walsh herself placed 3rd in 2012, drowning out the noise and naysayers. This year at least three women look set to take the reigns in the race. I’ve got my eye on the Paul Nicholl’s trained and Bryony Frost ridden Yala Enki at 40-1. It’s worth a punt for the outsider fans amongst us! Whatever you’re on, enjoy the race!
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.
Richard Johnson OBE shares his reverence for the Grand National in this interview with Betway. He gives us a play by play of some of his more memorable National rides over the years, including Celtic Abbey in 1997 (unseated at the chair – but going well until that point), Edmond in 2001 (fell at fence one), ‘What’s Up Boy’s in 2002 (a close second!) and 2014’s Balthazar King (second again!). With high hopes and near misses over the years he explains what a 2019 Grand National win would mean to him. Can Rock the Kasbah (currently 16-1) do it for Richard Johnson?