The Grand National’s Best Moments

Many Clouds and Leighton AspellThis is a guest post by London-based writer Dom Smith. He is a longtime follower of U.K. horse racing with a particular fondness for the Grand National event.

The Grand National at Aintree is still several months away, but given that winter is relatively quiet on the horse racing circuit, it represents one of the first major events of 2015. And as we prepare to flip our calendars over to the new year, it’s hard not to get excited about the spring racing season to come. So just for fun, here’s a look back at some of the incredible moments that the Grand National has provided over the years.

Neptune Collonges Wins By A Sliver

Neptune Collange over the water jump at Aintree.
Neptune Collange over the water jump at Aintree.

The 2012 Grand National didn’t have any particularly compelling story at its outset. But as this sport proves time and time again, sometimes it’s the unexpected races that deliver incredible moments. So it was when Neptune Collonges, a grey trained by Paul Nicholls, took the title despite fairly long 33/1 odds. Neptune Collonges was by no means the biggest underdog to triumph at the Grand National, but according to Metro’s own countdown of great Grand National moments, he was the narrowest winner in the history of the race. Re-watch the end of the 2012 Grand National and it really is remarkable how slim the margin was, making this one of the most interesting finishes in the event’s remarkable history.

Corbiere Wins For Jenny Pitman

Many still think of horse racing as a sport that is dominated by men, in that the vast majority of trainers, jockeys, and even owners still seems to be male. This was even more the case in 1983 when a horse named Corbiere, trained by one Jenny Pitman, burst onto the scene at Aintree. Corbiere had a strong reputation entering his first title run with 13/1 odds at the outset of the race. But the eventual championship marked a major milestone for women trainers, and Corbiere’s continued excellence in races to come—he was in contention each of the following two years—established a very sound legacy.

The IRA Disrupts The Race

This isn’t one of the more glamorous moments in Grand National history, but it was still a remarkable event, and one that almost adds a sort of mystique to the race. In 1997, suspicion over an IRA terrorist plot at Aintree—specifically, a bomb threat—led to the evacuation and postponement of the race. A Sun Sentinel article from the time also notes that the event came during a period of particular aggression from the IRA, and that Princess Anne was among those evacuated from Aintree. Thankfully no bombing took place, and it was a credit to the significance of the event and passion of the people involved that the race was still held the following week, with Lord Gyllene ultimately winning.

Retired Jockey Leighton Aspell Wins On Pineau De Re

pineau_2873959bThe 2014 Grand National was a wonderful exhibition of the passion that trainers and jockeys possess. Pineau De Re was a bit of a long shot heading into the Grand National, with 25-1 odds on the morning of the race. But ge managed to break through and win quite convincingly against a strong field. Following the race, betfair’s recap quoted Leighton Aspell, who saddled Pineau De Re, as expressing joy at his decision to return to racing after having retired in 2007. “It’s a wonderful day,” Aspell said. “This is what we do it for.” It wasn’t the most remarkable story to come out of Aintree from a fan’s perspective, but to see a formerly retired career jockey return to that kind of triumph was a heart-warming experience and a great display of why the sport can be so special. Pineau De Re wi
ll defend his title in 2015.

Frankly, every year at Aintree offers an inspirational or incredible story in one way or another. It’s just that kind of sport, and that kind of event. But these are some of the best moments in Grand National history, and we’ll have to see if 2015 can match them!

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