Six Equine Heroes Who Won The Welsh and English Grand Nationals
Tue, Apr 4, 2017
The world's biggest jump race, the £1m Randox Health Grand National, takes place this Saturday 8th April.
There's also a seven race card at Chepstow on the same day.
There is a strong connection between Chepstow and Aintree with many winners of the Coral Welsh Grand National also winning the big prize in Liverpool.
Here we take a look at those great horses:
Rag Trade, trained by Fred Rimell and ridden by John Burke, won the Welsh National in February 1976 before going on to Aintree glory, where he beat the great Red Rum.
The year before he had been bought for £18,000 by the first celebrity hairdresser, Teasy-Weasy Raymond. Sporting a bogus French accent and smart but decidedly unconventional outfits, he had become a TV star in the 1950s and it’s said that he made British hairdressing glamorous. Vidal Sassoon learned his trade at his Mayfair salon.
Raymond was keen on racing, being the part-owner of the 1963 Grand National winner Ayala. He took Rag Trade away from George Fairbairn’s northern stable and sent him to be trained by Arthur Pitt at Epsom. Despite winning the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter Raymond decided to move him again, this time to Rimell’s yard in Worcestershire. He was at a trainer at the top of his profession in the 1970s, producing Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle winners such as Gay Trip, Royal Frolic and Comedy Of Errors.
Rag Trade may have been lucky when winning the Welsh National, for the Jenny Pitman-trained favourite Gylippus capsized at the last fence when still in front. That was ironic as Rag Trade wasn’t a great jumper and after riding him once the champion jockey John Francome said “never again”. However, there was no fluke about his Aintree victory, as he took the lead off Red Rum at the elbow and stayed on well to hold off the triple-National winner, who had ten pounds more on his back. L’Escargot was the only other horse to beat Red Rum in five Grand Nationals.
Raymond was a difficult man to please; Rimell could hardly do better than win a Grand National, yet in due course he moved the horse back to Fairbairn. Mrs Rimell later described him as, “Awful. One just did not care for him."
From the start of his racing career Silver Birch was regarded as a potential National horse. Trained by Paul Nicholls, he only ran four times over hurdles, scoring twice, before graduating to steeplechasing. On his second run over the bigger obstacles he proved his stamina by winning over three and a quarter miles at Chepstow. A year later he won the Becher Chase, run over a similar distance jumping the big National fences, and was promptly made favourite for the Welsh National, where he had been set to carry just ten stone five pounds. He won by four lengths, the second instalment of a treble that day for Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh. It was Nicholls’ first victory in the race as a trainer; he’d ridden Playschool to success in 1987.
Silver Birch was an obvious contender for the 2005 Grand National, but was ruled out by injury, and after being sidelined for a year he clearly wasn’t the same horse in 2006. In the National he fell at the Chair and later in the year, approaching his tenth birthday, connections decided to cut their losses and sell.
His new owner Brian Walsh sent him to rookie trainer Gordon Elliott, who nursed him back to form. When he came second in the three and three quarter mile cross country race at the Cheltenham Festival his prospects at Aintree became brighter still, though at 33/1 few punters latched onto him. In the National Robbie Power had him up with the leaders from before halfway, sent him into the lead at the last and in a close finish held off McKelvey and Slim Pickings. The Peter Bowen-trained McKelvey had been hampered during the race and finished lame, otherwise he could have been the first Welsh-trained winner of the National since 1905.
Robbie Power had his biggest win since then in the Cheltenham Gold Cup a few weeks ago, riding Sizing John.
Cloister was the first of six horses to do the Welsh and Aintree Grand National double, and one of just two that won the Liverpool race first. He was one of the best known, most controversial horses of the 1890s, and put up arguably the greatest National performance of all time.
In 1891 he finished second in the big race and might have won if his jockey had not allowed himself to get boxed in on the long run from the last fence to the winning post. He filled the runner-up berth the following year behind another Aintree specialist, Father O’Flynn, carrying two stone more than that rival. He made no mistake in 1893, leading all the way to win by 40 lengths, carrying a massive twelve stone seven pounds and setting a course record that lasted for 40 years. In those days the fences were much more forbidding and solid than they are nowadays.
He won three other shorter races over those fearsome obstacles, a testament to his great jumping ability.
In 1894 and 1895 he was made favourite, only to be withdrawn close to each race. His owner, a Caernarvonshire quarry owner called Charles Duff, was adamant he had been nobbled. Lameness troubled him and although a new trainer, Charles Thompson, had restored his fitness in 1896 he was now twelve years old and past his best, and his sights had to be lowered. Nevertheless £500 was a good prize and a huge crowd packed into the racecourse at Ely, near Cardiff, to see Cloister and his old foe Father O’Flynn line up for the second ever Welsh Grand National, then run over two and a half miles. Cloister made almost all the running and won by a comfortable two lengths, with Father O’Flynn well beaten.
The winning jockey Gwyn Saunders-Davies received a tremendous ovation and was lifted shoulder-high by some of his many Welsh supporters. His popularity is explained by the fact that between 1882 and 1903 he rode 332 winners from 1,068 mounts, a strike rate that even A P McCoy didn’t approach.
The 1982 Welsh National was won by the seven-year-old chestnut Corbiere. He came with a powerful late run under Ben de Haan, who was riding his first big race winner, to beat Pilot Officer by a head with the previous year's victor Peaty Sandy a well beaten third.
Corbiere’s owner Bryan Burrough named him after a lighthouse near his home on Jersey, the distinctive white blaze on his face being reminiscent of that prominent local landmark, but in the Jenny Pitman yard where he was trained he was known as Corky. “Mrs P” had looked like winning the race six years earlier when Gylippus had been a last fence faller. For the first time in its history the first three home were all saddled by women trainers. Fourth was the odds on favourite Captain John, who next year was one of the famous Michael Dickinson-trained quintet that filled the first five places in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Pilot Officer’s jockey was apparently told to object, on the grounds that the winner had taken his ground on the run-in. The stewards’ enquiry overruled the objection, the £30 deposit for lodging it was not returned, and the jockey was fined a further £30 because they regarded it as frivolous.
A win at Doncaster and a second place at the Cheltenham Festival encouraged Corbiere’s supporters to back him down to 13/1 for the Grand National. Ben de Haan was again on board and they disputed the lead with the future winner Hallo Dandy from fully a mile and a half out before taking a clear advantage before the second last and kicking on after the last. Greasepaint gained on him in the closing stages, but not fast enough and Corbiere held on by three quarters of a length.
It was the first time the world's greatest steeplechase had been won by a woman trainer. That win, plus his two thirds – carrying top weight of twelve stone in 1984 and eleven stone pounds in 1985 – meant Corbiere could be ranked as one of the best Grand National horses since Red Rum.
Nine-year-old Earth Summit, who as a six-year-old novice had won the Scottish Grand National, went off at odds of 25-1 in the Welsh equivalent in 1997.
That long interval was due to a bad suspensory tendon injury. His syndicate of owners, which included soccer star Ricky George, heaped praise on trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies for performing “a miracle” to bring the horse back to top form.
After getting the better of a long tussle with Indian Tracker, Earth Summit was fifteen lengths clear approaching the second last. Those exertions began to tell as Don Samouri ran on strongly to get within a length and three quarters, but from that point Earth Summit rallied and the gap didn’t reduce any more.
The Chepstow management were relieved that the race was run at all after its abandonment due to frost in the last two years.
Earth Summit was partnered by Tom Jenks there, but unfortunately he was sidelined through injury when the horse won the Aintree National later in the season under Welshman Carl Llewellyn. He came out the best in an epic battle on heavy going with the gallant Suny Bay, the pair finishing miles ahead of the other four that completed the course. Earth Summit thereby became the first horse to win English, Scottish and Welsh Grand Nationals.
His owners had struck a 33/1 bet a few years before that he would win a Grand National before the year 2000 despite Twiston-Davies’s pessimistic assessment of the horse. “Extreme distances are what he wants. He is so slow at home that if we want to give another horse confidence, we work it with Earth Summit.”
His Aintree victory must have been a sweet moment for another member of the syndicate, Nigel Payne. He was the racecourse’s publicity officer for many years and had had to cope with the fallout from the infamous void race of 1993 and the bomb scare of 1997 that led to the race being deferred until the Monday.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, who had tasted Grand National success with Earth Summit in 1998, triumphed again with Bindaree four years later. This was the only one of his 40 races in which he wasn’t partnered by Carl Llewellyn, who opted to ride the better-fancied stable companion Beau.
Jamie Goldstein, who had been booked to ride Bindaree, broke his leg in a fall during a Ludlow novice chase a few days before the National. Jim Culloty, who had just ridden Best Mate to the first of his three Cheltenham Gold Cup triumphs, deputised. He had never completed the National course before. He did this time, though he had to avoid interference from a loose horse between the last two fences, which turned out to be his stable companion Beau. He conjured up a great finishing burst from the horse to overtake Richard Johnson on What’s Up Boys in the last 75 yards.
Bindaree wasn’t in the same form next season, but in the autumn of 2003 he showed distinct signs of recovery when finishing second to Sir Rembrandt at Chepstow. Three weeks later, the pair of them were back for the Welsh National. They were both in contention five out, where Sir Rembrandt hit the fence so hard it almost stopped him in his tracks. Two of the other leaders fell side by side at the fourth last fence and from there the race developed into a duel between Bindaree and Sir Rembrandt, and in an exciting finish Bindaree won by just half a length.
Twiston-Davies, who hails from Crickhowell, said, "It is great to win this race because Carl and I are both Welsh.” Carl Llewellyn had become the first Welshman to be successful since Dick Francis, also from Pembrokeshire, had won on Crudwell in 1956.
One year later, Bindaree’s attempt at a repeat triumph in the Welsh National was almost scuppered by traffic problems. To avoid being late he was unloaded from the horsebox near the Severn Bridge and ridden to the racecourse. He arrived just in time and ran a fine race to finish a close fifth to Silver Birch, a future Aintree National winner.