Rule The World Although the horses still travelled the same distance as the previous year, the 2016 Grand National was the first to be run over an advertised distance of 4 miles, 2 furlongs and 74 yards, after every National Hunt racecourse in the country was professionally surveyed and re-measured. The race also featured an etraordinary winner, in the form of Rule The World, who was a maiden after 13 starts over fences, dating back to November, 2014 and, hence still a novice. The aptly-named nine-year-old thus became the first maiden to win the National since Voluptuary in 1884 and the first novice since Mr. What in 1958.

Rule The World was the first Grand National winner for Gigginstown House Stud, but his victory was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he twice recovered from a cracked pelvis earlier in his career. Winning trainer Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris hailed him as ‘a horse of iron’, while winning owner Michael O’Leary was no less generous in his praise, saying that he ‘could have been Gold Cup standard’ but for his previous injuries.

Ridden by 19-year-old David Mullins, having his first ride in the National, Rule The World was sent off at 33/1, but travelled well, just behind the leaders, before making a shuddering error at the final open ditch. Nevertheless, he made headway into a close third at the final fence and, switched to the outside, challenged passing the famous ‘Elbow’, halfway up the run-in. In a thrilling finish, he came home strongest of all, to win by 6 lengths from The Last Samurai, with Vics Canvas 8 lengths further behind in third place. Rule The World ran just once more, finishing a respectable sixth in the Grade One Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown just over a fortnight later, but his retirement was confirmed the following month.

The War National 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.

Amberleigh House The name of Donald “Ginger” McCain will, of course, always be synonymous with that of the legendary Red Rum, whom he trained to win the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. However, it should not be forgotten that, in 2004, 27 years after Red Rum galloped imperiously into the record books, McCain trained his fourth National winner, Amberleigh House, and became just the third trainer, after George Dockeray and Fred Rimmell, to do so.



McCain bought Amberleigh House, specifically as a National horse, for £75,000 in November, 2000, after watching him win the Emo Oil Handicap Chase, over 2 miles 4 furlongs, at Punchestown for Co. Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan the previous May. Amberleigh House made his debut in the Grand National, at 150/1, in April, 2001, and officially “chased leaders until badly hampered and brought down 8th (Canal Turn)”. However, McCain recalled the incident rather more vividly, saying, “The first time he went to Aintree he was hit sideways on by Paddy’s Return at the Canal Turn so he was at the bottom of the pile-up.”



Amberleigh House was balloted out of the Grand National in 2002, but returned in 2003 to finish a highly creditable third, beaten 14 lengths, behind Monty’s Pass. Afterwards McCain reportedly told his son, Donald Jnr., “All you’ve got to do is improve him 7lb”. Officially, Amberleigh House had only improved by 3lb by the time the Grand National rolled around again, but met his old rival Monty’s Pass on 11lb better terms than the previous year.



In any event, having been patiently ridden by Graham Lee, Amberleigh was left with plenty to do with three fences to jump, but made relentless progress in the last half a mile, eventually overhauling the wandering leader, and favourite, Clan Royal a hundred yards from the winning post and staying on to win by 3 lengths.



Amberleigh House ran in the National again in 2005, and 2006, with distinction, but Graham Lee later paid tribute to the little horse, saying, “I rode him in four Grand Nationals and he was brilliant. Although he only measured very, very small, when you showed him an Aintree fence he grew a hand. He thrived on those fences and that was before they got modified. He was a very special and brave little horse.”



The last word, though, is reserved for Ginger McCain, who told live radio listeners, “It was f****** magic, cock.”