The form book records that the 1947 Grand National was won by Caughoo, a small, unheralded 8-year-old owned by Dublin jeweller Jack McDowell, trained by his brother Herbert and ridden by Eddie Dempsey, predominantly a work rider, completely unknown outside of Ireland. His victory was, in itself, remarkable enough.
Neither horse nor jockey had previously raced in England, never mind over the National fences at Aintree but, belying his 100/1 starting price, Caughoo defeated Lough Conn and fifty-six other rivals – including such luminaries of the day as Prince Regent, Revelry and Silver Fame – by 20 lengths and further in a common canter. British Pathé News reported the end of a “grand Grand National”, but the finish of the race was just the start of a controversy that was to last for five decades or more.
The weather at Aintree on National Day was foul, with rain and thick fog reducing visibility to a few hundred yards, at best, and the going was heavy. Caughoo had won the Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick in 1945 and 1946, so was not without ability, and had been set to Aintree in the hope that a change of scenery would rekindle his enthusiasm. However, few people expected him to complete the National course at all, let alone in such a fast time.
Astonishingly, one of them, Daniel McCann, rider of the second horse home, Lough Conn, accused Eddie Dempsey of ‘lingering’ at the twelfth fence – the last fence before Melling Road – on the first circuit and rejoining the race on the second circuit, having failed to jump at least half of the thirty obstacles. A row broke out in the bar, during which Eddie Dempsey was assaulted by McCann – who subsequently served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure – and, although the court case brought by McCann was dismissed, it wasn’t until 1999, 10 years after Dempsey’s death, that evidence came to light vindicating horse and rider.
At that time, the Irish Mirror obtained photographic evidence of Caughoo jumping Becher’s Brook on two separate occasions. Peter McDowell, son of owner Jack McDowell, said at the time, “Caughoo was a good little horse and won the National fairly. We always knew that. We have pictures to prove it.”