For every Grand National winner’s story, there are 39 (it used to be more) others that go untold. Chris Pitt’s Go Down to the Beaten, published by Racing Post Books on 18 March, relates some of the best of these in a fascinating chronicle of the World’s Greatest Horse Race, from the first post-war National in 1946 right up to 2010.
First there are the horses. Chris Pitt recalls both heroic and heart-rending stories of some of the also-rans. Of Wyndburgh, three times runner-up; of Elsich, who fell in almost every race he ran (“my son was supposed to ride him but I didn’t want him to get hurt”) and of Ormonde Tudor, who had romped his way through 11 different trainers. We also get new angles on some of the most famous National stories ever: on what might have caused Devon Loch’s infamous run-in collapse and a slow-motion from-the-saddle view of the Foinavon pile-up.
Then there are the humans: Tony Grantham, the first Royal jump jockey, Clive Chapman, who became a household name due to the Hamlet cigar ads and Brod Munro-Wilson, a ‘rogue in brogue’ who liked “to ride like a gentleman, not a monkey up a stick”. Pitt examines the three types of National jockey: those who were there to win, those who were there to get round and those who were there just to take part for the ‘greatest thrill of all’. We get to ride the National course with Lorcan Wyer, talk to ‘AP’ about the existence of chance and meet the jockey who woke up on the morning of the 1973 Red Rum and Crisp National unable to see.
Finally of course there is the race. Its history, the changing of the times, sponsorship, the first televised race, and how in the 1960s the Russians planned to rule the National as well as the world. Pitt takes an in-depth look at the two headline grabbing Nationals, the void National in 1993, ‘the day horseracing hurled a brick through its shop window’; and the 1997 ‘bomb scare’ National that resulted in a Liverpool free-for-all.
More than anything, Go Down to the Beaten offers a unique insight into the last 60 years of racing and is a must for every racing fan.
Go Down to the Beaten is published on 18th March by Racing Post Books, priced £20.Go Down to the Beaten: Tales of the Grand National
Available from www.racingpost.books/shop and all good booksellers.