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|Runners & Riders||Racecards explained|
|Grand National facts||Back to introduction|
|1) In 1839, 17 horses and their supposedly gentlemen riders lined up at Aintree for a race of "four miles across country" - the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase. In fact, the distance was actually more than that, most of the jockeys were professionals and the event drew a crowd of 40,000 spectators.
2) The rules for the first National were: "A sweepstake of 20 sovereigns each, five sovereigns forfeit, with 100 sovereigns added; 12 stone each; gentlemen riders; four miles across country; the second horse to save his stake, and the winner to pay ten sovereigns towards expenses; no rider to open a gate or ride through a gateway, or more than 100 yards along any road, path or driftway"!
3) The first National was due to start at one o'clock but eventually got underway at three after confusion in the weighing out procedure and a succession of false starts. The eventual winner was Lottery, the 5-1 favourite.
4) It was in the first ever running of the race that one of the streams became known as Becher's Brook after Captain Martin Becher, rider of Conrad and one of the country's top jockeys. The horse ploughed into the sixth fence and catapulted Becher over the top and into the brook where he sought refuge from the following horses. Captain Becher is reputed to have said after his experience that he had not known how "dreadful water tastes without the benefit of whisky". He managed to re-mount Conrad, but fell again at the second brook.
5) After the first National was run, the Liverpool Mercury Newspaper reported the following day: "We have heard with alarm and regret that it is in contemplation to establish steeplechasing annually or periodically in this neighbourhood. If any such design is seriously entertained we trust that some means will be adopted to defeat it"!
6) Before the running of the second National in 1840, Irish amateur Alan Power had a bet that he and his horse, Valentine, would be ahead at the wall. He set off at a terrific pace and approaching the second brook he was well clear. The horse then came almost to a halt before rearing up and corkscrewing over in a style, which amazed onlookers. Power managed to get his mount going again and ultimately won his bet. The fence has been known as Valentine's Brook ever since. Valentine finished third behind the winner, "Jerry".
7) Tom Olliver was the first jockey to win back to back Nationals, riding Gay Lad in 1842 and Vanguard the following year, the first time the race was run as a handicap. He had also finished second on Seventy-Four in 1839. Tom was so pleased with Vanguard that he had a sofa made from the bay gelding's hide when the horse passed away!
8) Jockey Tom Olliver won a record third National in 1853, partnering the then 15-year-old Peter Simple. The "Red Rum" of his day, Peter Simple took part in many early Nationals, finishing third in 1841 & 1842, second in 1845, and winning twice in 1849 and 1853! Tom Olliver took part in a record 18 Nationals despite a spell behind bars in a debtor's prison, boasting three wins, three seconds and a third in the great race!
9) The first Irish-trained winner of the great race was Matthew, ridden by Denis Wynne in 1847. Fifteen years later, his son James was due to ride O' Connell in the National, but on the morning of the race the family received sad news; James' sister had died suddenly at home in Ireland. O'Connell's owner, Lord De Freyne, tried to persuade James not to ride, but he was determined to take part to honour his sister. Tragedy struck at the plain fence before the water when O'Connell was brought down, in full view of the grandstand. James received internal injuries in the fall, from which he died that evening.
10) In the earliest Nationals, the fences were generally small country banks, some of which had ditches, plus a couple of brooks and even a stone wall. The stone wall was finally removed in 1844, being replaced by the Water Jump.
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