Caughoo  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.”


Tipperary Tim  Legend has it that, prior to winning the 1928 Grand National on 100/1 outsider Tipperary Tim, some joker told amateur jockey Mr. William Dutton that the only way his mount could win was if all his rivals fell. That may or may not be true but, either way, in a bizarre twist of fate, Tipperary Tim was the only one of the 42 runners to negotiate all of the National fences without mishap and came home a distance clear of Billy Barton, who had been remounted after falling at the final fence.



Owned by Harold Kenyon and trained by Joseph Dodd, Tipperary Tim was apparently named after Tim Crowe, a Tipperary native who was, for 15 years, Irish cross country champion.



The 1928 Grand National was run in treacherous foggy weather conditions on bottomless ground. Problems began at the eighth fence on the first circuit of the 2¼-mile course, known as the Canal Turn, which, in those days, featured a ditch before the fence itself. One of the classier horses in the field, Easter Hero – who would go on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1929 and 1930 – stood off too far and jumped into, rather than over, the fence, causing a melee from which just seven horses emerged with their jockeys intact.



Rather than taking the fence diagonally, Mr. Dutton, a solicitor by trade, had plotted a longer, but safer, course around the outside of the Canal Turn, so Tipperary Tim was still standing. By the time the field reached the twenty-ninth, and penultimate, fence, only three horses, Great Span, Billy Barton and Tipperary Tim, in that order, were left standing. Great Span departed with a slipping saddle, leaving Billy Barton in the lead, briefly, but the new leader parted company with jockey Tommy Cullinan at the final fence, leaving Tipperary Tim to gallop on to an unlikely victory.



Coincidentally, the 1929 Grand National was also won by a 100/1 outsider, Gregalach but, since then, only three more horses at treble-figure odds – Caughoo in 1947, Foinavon in 1967 and Mon Mome in 2009 – have won the Aintree marathon.





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.”



Neptune Collonges  In April, 2012, Paul Nicholls had won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship for the last six years running but, after 52 attempts, had failed to win the highest profile race in the National Hunt calendar, the Grand National. However, on April 14 his luck changed, when Neptune Collonges, owned by John Hales and ridden by Daryl Jacob, snatched victory by the minimum margin in the final stride of the Aintree marathon.



Sent off at 33/1, despite having failed by just a neck to overhaul Giles Cross, who was receiving a stone, in the Betfred Grand National Trial on his previous start in February, Neptune Collonges made headway from mid-division heading out on the second circuit and, by the time the field reached the twenty-seventh fence, also known as “Booth”, was on the heels of the leaders. Only third jumping the last fence, he looked beaten when Sunyhillboy took the lead at the Elbow but, switched to the outside in the closing stages, bore down on his rival to win by a nose in a head-bobbing, pulsating finish. It was, in fact, the closest ever finish in the history of Grand National.



Seabass, ridden by Katie Walsh, finished third, a further 5 lengths away, having found no extra when headed at the Elbow. Nevertheless, in so doing, the gelding made Walsh, who was having her first ride in the race, the most successful female jockey in the history of the Grand National.



Neptune Collonges, for his part, became only the third grey, after The Lamb and Nicolaus Silver, to win the Aintree spectacular. His victory also secured yet another National Hunt Trainers’ Championship for Paul Nicholls, who said of him, “He got there at the right time and that’s what counts. This has been a race we haven’t had the best of luck in, but it’s great to win.” He also added, “If it hadn’t been for Denman or Kauto Star, then he’d have won a Gold Cup.”



John Hales announced the immediate retirement of the winner, as he had intimated before the race, saying simply, “He’ll never race again, that’s it.”