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Grand National needs Katie Walsh to ride to the rescue

March 24th, 2013 Sports

Grand National needs Katie Walsh to ride to the rescue

Treble top: Red Rum’s three Grand National victories were the springboard to salvation for the great race Photo: PA

Not long after Ginger McCain’s gelding had won it for a record third time, in
1977, along came four terrific tales in succession.

In 1980 Ben Nevis won it for American amateur Charlie Fenwick. A year later
Bob Champion and Aldaniti overcame cancer and serious tendon problems
respectively, to write unquestionably the most inspirational story in
sporting history. Proving its’ timelessness, my children have nearly worn
out our copy of the film ‘Champions’.

In 1982 permit holder-trained homebred Grittar won for 48-year-old amateur
Dick Saunders, the oldest winning jockey. In 1983, a year before the course
was finally secured by the Jockey Club for £3.4 million, Jenny Pitman became
the first female trainer to win it with Corbiere.

In those days though it had been the property developers Aintree needed saving
from. Now it is the race’s naysayers and the anti-brigade, who have always
regarded it as the next logical target after banning foxhunting.

If nothing else, the race’s ancient script writer needs to rediscover his
magic touch and produce a story to put the Grand National back on the front
pages and at the forefront of little boys’ (and girls’) dreams again, for
the right reasons.

If nothing else it is essential that the race starts to regain its self
confidence. No pressure, but here’s looking at you Irish amateur Katie Walsh
and Seabass.

However, the blanket of snow which settled upon Aintree racecourse on Saturday
was a reminder of another fabulous National tale, which is now ingrained in
the race’s folklore.

In 1901 the race was run in a blizzard. It was still a good decade before
World War I, when human let alone equine life had a different value. Even
so, as each of the 24 riders due to ride in the race weighed out, they
signed a petition calling for it to be postponed for a few days as the 1855
(frost) and 1858 (heavy snow) Nationals had been. Although visibility was
almost non-existent the stewards would have none of it and their only
concession to the jockeys was to allow them to go straight to the start
instead of parading.

The success of Grudon, an entire who would go on to become a stallion despite
being out of a working plough horse, in the March-run race may have been
partly attributable to the fact that his first run in the National, in 1898,
was also in a snowstorm of such strength that few could make out the winner
Drogheda’s colours as he crossed the line.

But victory was also due to the sharp thinking of Grudon’s owner-trainer
Bernard Bletsoe who, having walked the course, dispatched a stablelad to a
local shop to buy two pounds of butter, which he packed in the horse’s feet
to prevent the snow balling up. While slipping contributed to the falls of
many others, including the popular True Blue, Grudon made all to beat the
eight other finishers and skipped round in a very respectable time.