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banner Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
The Grand National 1956-1999
Bobbyjo - winner in 1999 and going for the double
Bobbyjo - winner in 1999 and going for the double
One of the most dramatic races in Grand National history came in 1956.

The Queen Mother's well-fancied Devon Loch was clear after the last and going away from his nearest pursuer with every stride. Running up the Elbow, however, the horse seemed to try to jump a non-existent obstacle and flopped onto his belly.

That left the extremely fortunate ESB to win, while a bemused crowd tried to work out what had happened.

The start of the 1960s saw the National on television for the first time and victory for the favourite, Merryman II, who nearly completed the double the following year - just being foiled by Nicolaus Silver, only the second grey to win the race.

The Tophams and the National were in many ways, however, falling on hard times and in 1965 Mirabel Topham announced that year's National would be the last; she wanted to sell the course for property development.

That same claim, or threat, was made the following year and seemingly every year after that for some time.

In the midst of all this uncertainty, there occurred one of the most famous Nationals of all time. In 1967, the riderless Popham Down veered across the leading horses at the fence after Becher's.

The resulting carnage claimed all but one of the horses. The unfancied and untalented Foinavon suddenly emerged from the melee and made the best of his way home. Behind jockey John Buckingham, his rivals remounted or turned their horses as they tried again to jump the fence.

Foinavon's lead was gradually cut down, but at the post the 100/1 shot still had 15 lengths to spare.

Red Rum's era

With doubt still surrounding the future of the race, the most famous horse in its history stepped to the centre of the Aintree stage in 1973.

Yet, after a bit part in 1967 when he won a flat race, Red Rum's first National victory saw him branded almost the villain rather than the hero. That role went to Crisp, the gallant topweight who charged off in front and spreadeagled his field.

But as his stamina ran out, Red Rum was making steady progress and with just yards to go, he caught his rival, who was by now scarcely able to get above a walk.
Red Rum carries 12st to victory in 1974
Red Rum carries 12st to victory in 1974
By the next year, the course had been sold to businessman Bill Davies. Red Rum was back but was now burdened with top weight of 12 stone, a huge rise on 1973 and surely too much for him. But Aintree seems to bring out the best in some horses and 'Rummy' once again triumphed, giving weight to former Gold Cup winner L'Escargot.

In 1975 the latter gained his revenge and Red Rum again filled second spot the following year behind Rag Trade.

In 1977, at the age of 12 and again shouldering a welter burden, Red Rum came back for his historic third victory - a feat unparallelled in racing history and one which still brings a lump to the throat of many of the sport's fans. Appropriately, he is now buried by the winning post.


If the emotional cheers had been for the horse rather than the rider in 1977, that situation was reversed in 1981.

Aldaniti's tale was fairly remarkable in itself with its comeback from leg injury, but it was jockey Bob Champion's recovery from cancer which was the main story.

Diagnosed as having testicular cancer in 1979, Champion had undergone debilitating chemotherapy and lengthy hospitalisation. During his ordeal, one of the thoughts which kept him going was of riding Aldaniti in the National.

That dream was realised when Aldaniti repulsed the late challenge of Spartan Missile and his 54-year-old rider John Thorne to the adulation of the crowd and the media - culminating in the making of the film Champions.

When Crisp was defeated in 1973, his jockey was Richard Pitman. Ten years later, his ex-wife, Jenny Pitman became the first woman to train a National winner when Corbiere just landed the spoils.

Mrs Pitman repeated the feat in 1995 with Royal Athlete, having just been denied four years earlier when her Garrison Savannah met the same fate as Crisp and was caught in the final yards having been clear over the last fence. To add to the bitterness of defeat, Mrs Pitman had to endure the fact that her son Mark was the horse's jockey.

The National that never was

Inbetween the above two successes was the infamous 'non-race' of 1993.

With many of the runners pressing forward to get a good position there was a false start. There was a breakdown in communication between the starter, Keith Brown, and the recall assistant and no clear signal was given.

Some of the jockeys carried on regardless, while others stopped, milling about at the start. Those who raced continued to the end in the belief they were doing the right thing, but the race was declared void. It was another heartbreak for Jenny Pitman, whose Esha Ness was first past the post.
The course is evacuated
The course is evacuated
Less than an hour before the 1997 race, Merseyside police received a coded warning from the IRA that a bomb had been planted at the course. The police evacuated the course and a search found nothing.

Despite doubts and further warnings, the race was run the next day and was won by Lord Gyllene, who led practically all the way.

Rounding out the last century, however, was another family success. Last year's winner Bobbyjo was trained by Tommy Carberry (himself the winning rider in 1975 on L'Escargot) and ridden by his son Paul.

The same combination go for the first National of the new millennium, but only after 30 fences and four and a half gruelling miles will the name of the next Aintree champion be known.

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