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?
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.
Mon Mome, who won the Grand National in 2009 at odds of 100/1, had the distinction of being the first winner to be returned at treble-figure odds since Foinavon in 1967. However, unlike Foinavon, who was effectively ‘gifted’ the race when a mêlée at the twenty-third fence – which now bears his name – put paid to the chances of anything else still standing, Mon Mome beat Comply Or Die, winner of the race in 2008, and sixteen other finishers fair and square.
Owned by Vida Bingham, trained by Venetia Williams and ridden in the National by Liam Treadwell, Mon Mome had his task made easier when the well-fancied Black Apalachi unseated jockey Denis O’Regan at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, but there appeared no fluke about his performance. Indeed, to win by as far as he did under 11 stone was no mean feat, especially considering that in the previous twenty renewals, only Rhyme ‘N’ Reason in 1989 and Hedgehunter in 2005 had carried 11 stone or more to victory.
Patiently ridden on the first circuit, Mon Mome crept stealthily into contention against the other Grand National runners on the run to the Canal Turn and continued his progress through the field, but was still just one of a host of horses in contention on the home turn. He jumped the final fence upsides Comply Or Die, but was soon driven clear of his toiling rival to win by 12 lengths. Second favourite My Will finished third, a further 1¼ lengths away, with State Of Play 4½ lengths further back in fourth.
Unfortunately, rather than congratulating winning jockey Liam Treadwell on riding a Grand National winner at the first attempt, on a 100/1 chance, BBC racing presenter Claire Balding seemed more intent on making fun of his less-than-perfect teeth. Treadwell had the last laugh, though, because he was inundated with offers of free dental work, including from a Blackpool dentist who’d backed the winner.
The Grand National has attracted an initial 112 entries for the 2019 renewal of the Aintree showpiece.
As the world’s most famous steeplechase, some class horses have won the extended four-and-a-quarter mile race over two circuits and 30 fences down the years.
This year could see highly rated horses by the BHA line-up on Merseyside heading the 40-runner field on Saturday, 6 April.
While the weights aren’t published alongside initial entries as handicappers produce their own special adjusted ratings for the Grand National, their official marks are an early guide.
With that in mind then, here are three horses who could carry top weight in the 2019 renewal of this ultimate equine test of endurance.
Bristol De Mai
If the Grand National was run at Haydock instead of Aintree, then Bristol De Mai would surely be favourite with bookmakers.
There’s just something about that other Merseyside racecourse that seems to suit the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned eight-year-old.
Bristol De Mai has won back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock, but isn’t suited by other tracks that host leading staying chases like Kempton and Cheltenham.
That has earned him a BHA rating of 173, the highest of all potential Grand National runners. While previous Aintree form has Bristol De Mai zero from three, none of his previous career appearances there have come over the spruce-covered fences.
It’s clear that galloping left-handed tracks that are relatively flat suit him. The prospect of carrying top weight if Bristol De Mai runs means he’s 40/1 with most bookmakers to become his trainer’s third winner of the world-famous race.
Irish raiders have a 40 per cent Grand National strike rate in the previous two decades, and the first four home in last year’s race were all trained in the Emerald Isle.
In-behind Tiger Roll, Pleasant Company and veteran Bless The Wings at Aintree 12 months ago was Anibale Fly for well-known handicap plotters Tony Martin and JP McManus.
Finishing fourth in the Grand National after placing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his previous start meant he was far from disgraced in either.
Anibale Fly is thus a hugely consistent horse in staying chases and fully earned an official rating of 167.
That form and the fact he’s only a nine-year-old now makes him well worth considering as an each-way punt for Aintree again at 33/1 and Grand National free bets available through Oddschecker.
A prerequisite of any horse tackling this Merseyside marathon is proof they stay. Stamina is essential, and the eye is drawn to those animals who have won the other National races in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Elegant Escape improved from second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury to Welsh Grand National glory on his first try at 3m 5f over Christmas.
That Chepstow victory has seen the seven-year-old’s official rating rise into the 160s and trainer Colin Tizzard has already winners over the Grand National fences.
While they have come in the Topham Chase over a much shorter trip, seven-year-old Elegant Escape may already possess sufficient endurance to have a crack at the big one.
Having carried 11st 8lb on his back when winning the Welsh National, he looks capable of going well under a welter burden. Elegant Escape has Grand National quotes ranging from 25/1 to 14/1 with the bookies, meaning he’s prominent in the betting.