Grand National Names Victory for the all-too-well-named ‘Lottery’ in the first ‘official’ Grand National – or the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, as it was known at the time – in 1839 foreshadowed events at Aintree for years to come. Even to this day, the outcome of the revered steeplechase remains notoriously unpredictable; so much so, in fact, that many people who bet on the race choose their selection because it has a name that is amusing, whimsical or otherwise appealing for some, not-altogether-obvious, reason. You see, why some will be analysing who will win the Grand National in 2020, others will be thinking ‘what’s in a name?’.

 

Red, for example, is an important colour in Asian, especially Chinese, culture, where it symbolises good luck, happiness and prosperity. Red Alligator, at 100/7, in 1968 was the first Grand National winner with ‘red’ in his name, but he was followed shortly afterwards by the inimitable Red Rum, who won in 1973, 1974 and 1977 at odds of 9/1, 11/1 and 9/1, respectively. More recently, Red Marauder was one of just two horses that survived the 2001 Grand National unscathed – and one of just four finishers in all, winning by a distance at odds of 33/1.

 

Likewise, gold and silver are precious metals symbolising wealth. Golden Miller, returned at 8/1 in 1934, has been the only ‘gold’ National winner so far and, while the victory of Ascetic’s Silver, at 20/1, in 1906, is beyond living memory, two more ‘silver’ winners, Nicolaus Silver, at 28/1, in 1961 and Silver Birch, at 33/1, have lined the coffers of those inclined to ‘follow the money’, so to speak.

 

The rules surrounding the naming of racehorses, imposed by the spoilsports at Weatherbys, means that truly laugh-out-loud names are few and far between, although 1975 winner L’Escargot – French for ‘The Snail’ – no doubt raised a smile with the once-a-year betting brigade just two years after Britain entered what was the Common Market. Party Politics, the 1992 winner, wasn’t particularly amusing, either, but was at least topical, winning at 14/1 just five days before the Conservative Party, led by John Major, confounded opinion polls to win the General Election that year.

 

Anyone born in Scotland, or with a background in mountaineering, or both, may have delighted in the entirely unexpected victories of Foinavon, at 100/1, in 1967, and Ben Nevis, at 40/1, in 1980. Earth Summit, albeit sent off at a comparatively paltry 7/1 favourite, was another National winner along the same lines in 1998.

 

Victory for the all-too-well-named ‘Lottery’ in the first ‘official’ Grand National – or the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, as it was known at the time – in 1839 foreshadowed events at Aintree for years to come. Even to this day, the outcome of the revered steeplechase remains notoriously unpredictable; so much so, in fact, that many people who bet on the race choose their selection because it has a name that is amusing, whimsical or otherwise appealing for some, not-altogether-obvious, reason.

 

Red, for example, is an important colour in Asian, especially Chinese, culture, where it symbolises good luck, happiness and prosperity. Red Alligator, at 100/7, in 1968 was the first Grand National winner with ‘red’ in his name, but he was followed shortly afterwards by the inimitable Red Rum, who won in 1973, 1974 and 1977 at odds of 9/1, 11/1 and 9/1, respectively. More recently, Red Marauder was one of just two horses that survived the 2001 Grand National unscathed – and one of just four finishers in all, winning by a distance at odds of 33/1.

 

Likewise, gold and silver are precious metals symbolising wealth. Golden Miller, returned at 8/1 in 1934, has been the only ‘gold’ National winner so far and, while the victory of Ascetic’s Silver, at 20/1, in 1906, is beyond living memory, two more ‘silver’ winners, Nicolaus Silver, at 28/1, in 1961 and Silver Birch, at 33/1, have lined the coffers of those inclined to ‘follow the money’, so to speak.

 

The rules surrounding the naming of racehorses, imposed by the spoilsports at Weatherbys, means that truly laugh-out-loud names are few and far between, although 1975 winner L’Escargot – French for ‘The Snail’ – no doubt raised a smile with the once-a-year betting brigade just two years after Britain entered what was the Common Market. Party Politics, the 1992 winner, wasn’t particularly amusing, either, but was at least topical, winning at 14/1 just five days before the Conservative Party, led by John Major, confounded opinion polls to win the General Election that year.

 

Anyone born in Scotland, or with a background in mountaineering, or both, may have delighted in the entirely unexpected victories of Foinavon, at 100/1, in 1967, and Ben Nevis, at 40/1, in 1980. Earth Summit, albeit sent off at a comparatively paltry 7/1 favourite, was another National winner along the same lines in 1998.

Tiger Roll unlikely to make it three wins in a row

History could be made on Saturday, April 4, when Tiger Roll returns to Aintree. He’ll be chasing a third straight win in the Grand National. It’s a feat that has never been achieved in the long history of the race. Tiger Roll is certain to go off as favourite but there are several reasons why a third win is unlikely.

Too much weight

The weights for the 2020 Grand National are yet to be announced. The odds are though that Tiger Roll will be given a few more pounds than last year’s win to carry over this marathon trip. In 2018 the Gordon Elliott trained runner was given 10st 13lbs, but that went up to 11st 5lbs when winning last year.

When Red Rum won the third of his Grand Nationals (not achieved in successive years), he was given a weight of 11st 8lbs. He’d previously won the race with 12st on his back, and the fences were a lot tougher back in the 1970s. Since then, only twice has the winner of the race had more weight than 11st 5lbs.

Ground conditions

Tiger Roll unlikely to make it three wins in a row

A decent spell of weather might cause Tiger Roll some problems. Recent wins have come on soft, good to soft and heavy ground. His last defeat came on good ground, and if that was to be the conditions in April, perhaps that third win might not come about. Then again, if there are heavy conditions and he has more weight to carry, that’s not going to make it easy to secure a third win.

A tough set of contenders

The bookies currently say Tiger Roll is the clear favourite. For example, looking at the latest odds at SportNation, he’s at 11/2 – well ahead of next contender Kimberlite Candy at 16/1. There is a strong line-up this year, another factor that will make that third win unlikely. Last year saw Magic of Light finish second behind Tiger Roll. There were three lengths between the pair, but it could have been closer. What if the second hadn’t made a mistake at the last? It’ll be interesting what weight is given to Magic of Light (currently 20/1). He had eight pounds less than the dual National winner last year. Magic of Light has already shown good form this season. December saw him win a Class 1 race at Newbury.

Rathvinden (22/1) was third in last year’s race and had five lengths to find on Tiger Roll. With that 2019 experience behind him, another bold run is likely from the Willie Mullins contender. Walk in the Mill (20/1) is another that could prevent Tiger Roll from completing a historic hat-trick. This contender finished fourth in the 2018 Grand National and has won twice at Aintree with a couple of wins in the Becher Chase.

Tiger Roll unlikely to make it three wins in a row

Tiger Roll is likely to face stiff competition from another Gordon Elliott runner. Jury Duty is nine-years-old and if winning this year, would become the third horse of that age to win the National in five races. Jury Duty was the recent winner at Down Royal and is a solid jumper who should get around the Aintree course – but perhaps he’s an each-way fancy as he’s out at 50/1.

Injury setback

Tiger Roll hasn’t raced since his 2019 Grand National triumph. His hopes of a third win in this race received a setback when it was reported in November that he had a small chip in a joint. This ruled out any hope of him making a return to the racecourse until at least February.

However, it’s said he has made a good recovery, and there are tentative plans for Tiger Roll to race in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan next month. If that falls through, then the Cross-Country race at the Cheltenham Festival in March is a possibility. Last year, Tiger Roll ran twice before heading to Aintree. Trainer Gordon Elliott has commented that the injury “is obviously not ideal”. It remains to be seen just how much of a setback this will be for Tiger Roll, but it’s not helping his preparation.

Conclusion

Tiger Roll unlikely to make it three wins in a row

Will history be created at Aintree in April? Owner Michael O’Leary wasn’t initially keen on going for the hat-trick. The temptation of a third straight win has proved too much, however. It’s not clear how much the injury sustained towards the end of 2019 will affect his preparations. Tiger Roll isn’t getting any younger and he faces plenty of tough opposition in this year’s renewal of the Grand National. It’ll be interesting to see how much weight he has for the race, but a few more pounds aren’t going to help. Housewives up and down the country will back him but a third straight win might be just out of his reach.

Lady Jockeys in the Grand National Since 2010, at least one female jockey has ridden in every renewal of the Grand National. In fact, in 2018, Grand National ‘veteran’ Katie Walsh – who has ridden in the National half a dozen times – was joined by newcomers Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost, to make three female jockeys for the first time since 1988.

On the previous occasion that happened, Penny Ffitch-Heyes got no further than the first fence on Hettinger, Venetia Williams parted company with Marcolo at Becher’s Brook and was knocked unconscious in the fall and Gee Armytage, on Gee-A, was behind when pulling up at the fence after Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit.

However, the 2018 renewal had a much happier outcome, on the whole, for the female participants. Alpha Des Obeaux, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, took a heavy fall at The Chair when tracking the leaders, but both horse and jockey were none the worse for it, Baie Des Iles, ridden by Katie Walsh, completed the course in his own time to finish a tailed-off twelfth, and last, and Milansbar, ridden by Bryony Frost, stayed on to finish a never-dangerous fifth, beaten 32½ lengths, behind the winner, Tiger Roll.

Female participation in the Grand National began in 1977, following the Sex Discrimination Act two years earlier, and the pioneering jockey was 21-year-old amateur Charlotte Brew. She made front page news, at least before the race, but failed to complete the course, with her own horse, Barony Fort, eventually refusing at the open ditch four fences from home.

The first female jockey to complete the National Course was 26-year-old Geraldine Rees who, in 1982, rode Cheers into an exhausted eighth, and last, place. The next female jockey to complete the course was 51-year-old Rosemary Henderson on Fiddlers Pike, a 13-year-old former point-to-pointer whom she owned and trained, in 1994. Despite racing from 15lb out of the handicap, the 100/1 chance managed to finish fifth, albeit beaten 55¼ lengths.

After a hiatus of 11 years, Carrie Ford also finished fifth, on second favourite Forest Gunner, in 2005 and, thereafter, for over a decade, the Grand National was the preserve of just two female jockeys, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh. Nina Carberry made her Grand National debut in 2006, finishing ninth on the aforementioned Forest Gunner, and has since completed the course on three of her five subsequent attempts. Her best placing, though, is still only seventh, on Character Building in 2010, and even he was never a factor in the race famously won by Don’t Push It, under Sir Anthony McCoy.

Katie Walsh, on the other hand, made an immediate impact on her Grand National debut in 2012, guiding Seabass, trained by her father, Ted, to an excellent third place, beaten just 5 lengths, after leading halfway up the famously long, stamina-sapping run-in. In so doing, she achieved the highest placing ever in the Grand National by a female jockey. So far, she has failed to match that performance, but has failed to complete the course just once in five subsequent attempts; in 2016, her mount Ballycasey was weakening out of contention when making a mistake and unseating her at the second last fence.

Grey Horses & The Grand National

All grey thoroughbred horses are supposedly descended from the Alcock Arabian, an Arabian stallion of indefinite origin, but probably imported, via Constantinople, by Sir Robert Sutton, English Ambassador to the Porte, in the early eighteenth century. Certainly, grey horses are a rarity, representing about 3% of the thoroughbred population in Britain.

Grey colouring is determined by a dominant gene which, if inherited from a parent, is expressed, over other colour genes, in coat colour. In other words, all grey thoroughbred horses have at least one grey parent. Grey horses are usually born black, brown or chestnut, but gradually grow lighter in colour, to become dappled, grey or white.

In later life, most grey horses develop dark-pigmented tumours, called melanoma, on their skin, but these are mostly benign and require little or no treatment. However, influential Italian breeder Fedrico Tesio insisted that grey horses were ‘diseased’, leading to them falling out of favour. Nevertheless, it’s the scarcity of grey horses, coupled with the fact that they’re easy to spot, which has led to their enduring appeal in horse racing circles.

As far as the Grand National is concerned, in 179 years since the inaugural running of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, as the race was originally known, just three grey horses have won. One crackpot theory suggests that grey horses have fared poorly at Aintree because they’re more susceptible to the vagaries of the Merseyside weather in early April than horses of other colours. Anyone who subscribes to that theory, though, would do well to remember that Desert Orchid – possibly the most popular grey in the history of British horse racing – enjoyed his finest hour, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, on a foul, rainy day when racing only went ahead after a midday inspection.

Of course, Desert Orchid never ran in the Grand National – although he did win the Irish equivalent at Fairyhouse the year after his Gold Cup triumph – but the roll of honour at Aintree does include The Lamb (1868 and 1871), Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Neptune Collonges (2012).

Owned by William Henry, sixth Earl Poulett, The Lamb stood less than 15½ hands high – about the same height as the 2018 Grand National winner, Tiger Roll, who was affectionately described by his owner, Michael O’Leary, as ‘a little rat of a thing’ – and was apparently so named because of his diminutive size and placid nature. He had the distinction of winning his first National as a 6-year-old, under amateur jockey George Ede, in 1868 and, having subsequently contracted an illness that kept him off the course for two years, won his second as a 9-year-old, under another amateur jockey, Tommy Pickernell, in 1871. Mysteriously, some paintings and sketches depict The Lamb not as a grey, but as a black horse.

The second grey to win the Grand National, Nicolaus Silver in 1961, was unmistakably grey, in fact, almost white, with a hint of dapple on his quarters and legs. He was bought, for £2,600, by Kinnersley trainer Fred Rimmell, on behalf of owner Charles Vaughan, following the sudden death of his previous trainer in 1960. The following spring, Nicolaus Silver lined up at Aintree as an unheralded 28/1 chance but, relishing the firm ground, drew clear in the closing stages to beat the previous year’s winner, Merryman II, by 5 lengths.

The third and, so far, final grey to win the Grand National was Neptune Collonges, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Daryl Jacob, in 2012. Classy enough to complete a Nicholls’ 1-2-3, behind Denman and Kauto Star, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in his younger days, Neptune Collonges was, by now, a doughty 11-year-old, whose coat had grown even lighter with age. Nevertheless, he became the first horse since Red Rum to carry 11st 6lb or more to victory in the National and his winning margin, a nose, was the narrowest in the history of the celebrated steeplechase.