Timeline: Grand National’s most historic moments – part 1

Why is the Grand National the ‘world’s greatest race’? From winning horses that played on the stage, pulled a bus and worked on a farm, to races run in blizzards and fog… these highlights from the race’s history say it all…

Facts courtesy of Aintree Racecourse.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.


The first official races at Aintree were organised by a syndicate, headed by the owner of Liverpool’s Waterloo Hotel, William Lynn. He leased the land from Lord Sefton, set out a course and built a grandstand. Lord Molyneux laid the foundation stone on 7th February 1829, and placed a bottle full of sovereigns in the footings. The first Flat fixture was held five months later on 7th July. A horse called Mufti won the opening race, the one and a quarter mile Croxteth Stakes. Aintree started by putting on three race meetings a year.


Aintree staged its first National Hunt (jumping) fixture.


The Grand National was run at Aintree for the first time on Tuesday, 26th February, under the guise of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase over four miles, with an estimated 40,000 people attending. The obstacles included a stone wall, a stretch of ploughed land and two hurdles to finish, with the distance raced over being four miles. A horse named Lottery took the honours. Captain Martin Becher was unseated from his mount, Conrad, when leading at the sixth fence on the first circuit and the fence, also the 22nd obstacle when jumped on the second circuit, subsequently became known as Becher’s Brook.


Charity was the first mare to win the Grand National.


Edward William Topham, a respected handicapper, was responsible for turning the National into a handicap for the first time after it had been a weight-for-age race for the first four years.


Matthew was the first Irish-trained winners when 27 runners lined up – the biggest field so far.


Edward Topham took over the lease of Aintree in 1848 and became Clerk of the Course.


Not to be confused with a grey of the same name who was twice placed in the Grand National in the early 1840s, Peter Simple, a bay gelding, won the great chase on his first attempt in 1849. He became a regular at Liverpool, failing to finish the following three years, but returning with a second victory in 1853.


Tiny in stature, but with a huge heart, Irish-trained Abd-El-Kader became an instant favourite with the Aintree crowd when defying his build to negotiate the Grand National fences and win.


Abd-El-Kader became the first dual Grand National winner. Unquoted in the betting prior to his 1850 victory, the bookmakers were not so generous when installing him 7/1 joint favourite a year later. But the handicapper seemed to have a shorter memory, and, just 6lb higher than the previous year, Abd-El-Kader obliged. This was the third Irish-trained success.


Peter Simple became the oldest horse to win the Grand National and provided jockey Tom Olliver with his third success. Aged 15, Peter Simple was two years older than any other Grand National winner to this day. He was the second dual winner, having first succeeded in 1849. He returned to Aintree in 1854 for what was to be his sixth and last Grand National appearance, but failed to get round when the top-weight.


George Stevens, the most successful Grand National jockey with five triumphs, gained his first win on Freetrader, the previous year’s runner-up. He followed up on Emblem (1863), Emblematic (1864) and The Colonel (1869 and 1870).


Huntsman, owned by the Viscount de Namur, became the first French-trained winner. Sadly young jockey James Wynne died after his mount O’Connell was brought down.


The new official distance of the Grand National became four and a half miles. Emblem became the fifth mare to win when scoring by 20 lengths.


Emblem’s full-sister Emblatic continued the great record of mares in the early 1860s. They were the only successful full-sisters, while Emblatic was the sixth mare to triumph.


Five-year-old Alcibiade made his public debut when winning. He was the first of five horses his age to be successful in the Grand National. The minimum age to participate these days is seven.


Chantilly-based Harry Lamplugh, successful with Huntsman in 1862, sent over Cortolvin to become the second French-trained winner. None has succeeded since.


The Lamb, who also triumphed in 1871, became the first of only three victorious greys. The others were Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Neptune Collonges (2012). Standing at only 14 hands’ tall, he was originally bought as a pet and named The Lamb because of his dainty constitution. He was transformed into a racehorse by trainer Ben Land.


The Colonel was sent off at 100/7 for his first Grand National victory in 1869, although the confidence behind the six-year-old may have been more reflective of his jockey George Stevens, who had already won the great race three times, than the form that The Colonel had shown.


Despite a hike in the weights, The Colonel attracted considerable support and the 7/2 favourite held off the challenge of The Doctor to win by half a length and hand his rider George Stevens his fifth win, a record which still stands. The Colonel was the third dual winner.


The 1868 winner The Lamb was rerouted to the Sefton Chase the following year, finishing fourth, and was then out of action for two years with a wasting disease. This made his 1871 victory all the more impressive when he became the fourth dual Grand National winner.


Amateur rider Tommy Pickernell enjoyed his third success on Pathfinder.


Alcibiade had to overcome snowy conditions to triumph under Captain Henry Coventry of the Grenadier Guards, a cousin of Lord Coventry who owned the 1863 and 1864 winners. He was the second five-year-old to succeed.


Empress, named after Empress Elizabeth of Austria, was successful for trainer Henry Linde, based at the Curragh in Ireland – the sixth winner from that quarter. She was the fourth five-year-old and the eighth mare to succeed.


Henry Linde sent out the winner for the second successive year, with Woodbrook the seventh Irish-trained victor. Amateur rider Tommy Beasley, successful in 1880, was again triumphant.


Zoedone won in 11 minutes and 39 seconds, one of the slowest times ever recorded so the ground must have been very testing. The field of 10 runners was the smallest in the race’s history. Owned and ridden by Count Karel (Charles) Kinsky, she was the ninth mare to win.


A remarkable success was gained by Voluptuary, who had never previously jumped fences in public. When his racing career was over, he regularly appeared on the Drury Lane (London) stage where he had to jump the Water, ridden by actor Leonard Boyne.


The 50th Grand National at Aintree was won by 40/1 outsider Playfair.


Frigate, second in 1884, 1885 and 1888, got his head in front at the age of 11. Trained in Ireland (the eighth victor from across the Irish Sea) by her owner-breeder Matthew Maher, she was the 10th mare to win the Grand National, in which she ran seven times. She gave amateur rider Tommy Beasley his third and final success.


Seven-year-old Come Away, trained in Ireland by Harry Beasley and ridden by him, came home the winner as the 4/1 favourite. He was the ninth Irish winner.


Jockey Harry Barker achieved the amazing feat of finishing second in both the Grand National and the Derby. He rode Aesop at Aintree and Ravensbury at Epsom Downs. The winner Cloister became the first horse to defy 12st 7lb when the 9/2 favourite.


The epitome of a Grand National horse, Manifesto ran in the race eight times, more than any other horse to date. He won the great race twice, was third three times, fourth, eighth and only once failed to complete. This was his first victory and he carried 11st 3lb.


Manifesto established himself as an Aintree favourite and, partnered by George Williamson, won for the second time under a massive 12st 7lb as an 11-year-old. He was the fifth horse to succeed twice.


The winner Ambush II was owned by The Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII the following year. He was the 10th Irish-trained winner.


A blanket of snow covered the course and, despite a protest from the jockeys, racing went ahead in a ferocious blizzard. Grudon, an 11-year-old entire, made all to give jockey Arthur Nightingall his third victory in the race, following on from Why Not in 194 and Ilex in 1890.


The 20/1 chance Shannon Lass, owned by bookmaker Ambrose Gorham and trained in Sussex by James Hackett, became the 11th mare to win.


Ambush II was the first runner owned by a reigning monarch but fell at the last, leaving 13/2 favourite Drumcree to run on for a three-length victory in a field of 23.


Manifesto ran in the Grand National for a record eighth time. He won the contest twice (1897 and 1899), came third on three occasions (1900, 1902 and 1903) and fourth in 1895. He also fell in 1896. Racegoers turned out in their thousands to cheer the gallant 16-year-old gelding into eighth place on his Grand National swansong.


Kirkland, based at Lawrenny Park in Pembrokeshire with trainer Colonel Freddy Lort-Phillips, became the first – and remains the only – winner to be trained in Wales.


Ascetic’s Silver, previously successful in the Irish Grand National, emulated his half-brothers Drumcree and Cloister with victory at Aintree.


Lancashire-trained Eremon won despite his jockey Alf Newey breaking a stirrup leather before they had reached the fourth fence.


Fred Withington became the first trainer to saddle first and second when Californian-bred Rubio, a 66/1 chance, held Mattie MacGregor. A 15 guineas yearling, Rubio was restored to health pulling a bus from Towcester station to the Prospect Arms Hotel after breaking down in training.


Lutteur III was the latest five-year-old to capture the Grand National – the fifth in all following Alcibiade (1865), Regal (1876), Austerlitz (1877) and Empress (1880). The minimum age to run is now seven.


The 1908 Becher Chase winner Jerry M, under top-weight of 12st 7lb, finished a gallant second as he attempted to concede 30lb to the victorious Jenkinstown.


Glenside prevailed in a remarkable renewal, when the only horse, under Mr Jack Anthony, to complete without falling or being brought down. Three horses were subsequently remounted to finish.


The people’s favourite Jerry M, who had won the 1910 Grand Steeplechase de Paris, returned from injury to defy 12st 7lb and win the National as the 4/1 market leader under Ernie Piggott, grandfather of Lester. Keith Piggott, Lester’s father, trained the 1963 winner Ayala.


Following Jerry M and Cloister, Charles Assheton-Smith saw his colours carried to victory for a third time when Jenkinstown’s half- brother Covercoat won by a distance.


Tom Tyler turned down a substantial offer from owner Charles Assheton-Smith for this year’s winner, Sunloch. Shortly after the Aintree triumph, Tyler relented and sold Sunloch to Assheton-Smith but the winner was never as good thereafter.


Ally Sloper, ridden by Mr Jack Anthony, became the first Grand National winner to be owned by a woman, Lady Nelson.

1916, 1917 & 1918

The First World War stopped the Grand National being run at Aintree. A replacement race was organised at Gatwick Racecourse, which no longer exists and was on the site of the international airport. There were three runnings of the substitute race.


Ernie Piggott rode the second of his two winners on Poethlyn, having previously scored on Jerry M in 1912. These two winners, together with 1893 scorer Cloister and 1899 victor Manifesto, share the record for the biggest weight carried to victory – 12st 7lb.


Troytown gave amateur rider Jack Anthony his third success, winning by 12 lengths in heavy ground. The race was worth a record £5,000. Algy Anthony, who in 1900 had ridden and trained Ambush II to victory, handled the 11th Irish-based victor.


A bumper 35 runners contested the race but only Shaun Spadah managed to negotiate the course without mishap. The other three finishers all remounted.


Music Hall added to his 1920 Scottish Grand National win with a 12-length success.


At 13, Sergeant Murphy became the joint second oldest winner, along with Why Not in 1894.


Master Robert, a former Donegal plough horse bought for £50, triumphed under Bob Trudgill.


The starting gate was first used and Double Chance went on to victory under the amateur Major John Philip Wilson, who had famously shot down a Zeppelin over Hull during the First World War.


Owned by American Charles Schwartz and ridden by Tasmanian-born William Watkinson, Jack Horner scored for trainer Harvey Leader.


The first BBC radio commentary of the Grand National was broadcast by Meyrick Good and George Allison. They had to cope with 37 runners and misty conditions, calling home 8/1 favourite Sprig, who carried 12st 4lb, in a thrilling finish.


Although 42 horses started, the race ended with just two finishers. 100/1 chance Tipperary Tim came home a distance ahead of the remounted Billy Barton, the least number of horses to complete a Grand National.


The biggest Grand National field ever with 66 starters and, for the second consecutive year, a 100/1 chance won when seven-year-old Gregalach was successful.

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