1973, ’74, ’77: Red Rum
HIS place in the annals of Grand National history secure and odds- on to last for ever, the one and only triple winner is now enjoying his venerable old age at Ginger McCain’s yard in Cholmondeley, Cheshire. Having officially turned 30 on New Year’s Day – though his actual birthday is 3 May – Rummy has now been relieved of his busy schedule as an equine celebrity and is enjoying the quiet routine. “He’s better now than he’s been at any time since his illness three years ago,” McCain reported, “chirpy and very full of himself. He always thrives in the spring, but even through the winter has been led out every day for a stroll and a pick of grass. He may be an old gentleman, but when we turn him out into his paddock he still has a jump and a kick before getting down for a roll. I think he’s now got his sights set on becoming the oldest racehorse in the country!” For the first time in many years Red Rum will not be leading the Grand National parade on Saturday, though it is hoped he will appear at Aintree’s evening meeting on 3 May.
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THE only horse apart from Golden Miller ever to win the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, L’Escargot was retired by his owner, Raymond Guest, after his 1975 Aintree victory over Red Rum and Spanish Steps. He was given to the trainer Dan Moore’s wife, Joan. Following a misunderstanding over whether the horse should ever race again – L’Escargot was narrowly beaten in the Kerry National at Listowel later that year – Guest took the horse back to the US and retired him to the family estate, Powhatan Plantation, in Virginia. Here, L’Escargot enjoyed a happy old age until he died suddenly in his paddock in June 1984 at the age of 21.
1976: Rag Trade
RAG TRADE, apart from L’Escargot the only horse to defeat Red Rum in the National, ran again in the race in 1978, by which time he had left Fred Rimell’s yard and was trained by George Fairbairn. Ridden at Liverpool by Jonjo O’Neill, Rag Trade started at 8-1 favourite but broke down badly early on the second circuit and was put down shortly afterwards.
WINNER of that emotional National under Bob Champion, Aldaniti was retired following a first-fence fall in the 1982 race. Since then, he has been kept busy raising millions of pounds for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, and this spring, at 25, is being prepared for the next Bob Champion and Aldaniti Road Show, which will take him on a tour of Ireland to raise funds for cancer research. When not pounding the roads, Aldaniti spends his time with his owner Nick Embiricos at Kirdford, in West Sussex, where for most of the year he is turned out with an old pal in the shape of New Arctic, who had been ridden by the crack American amateur George Sloan in the Grand Pardubice in Czechoslovakia. Aldaniti had three times suffered severe leg problems before his Liverpool victory, and three times fought back to give the National one of its greatest moments. Even at his advanced age, his name continues to provide inspiration.
GRITTAR, now 22, was the last favourite to win the National, when partnered by Dick Saunders. He ran in the race the following two years, finishing fifth under Paul Barton in 1983 and 10th under John Francome in 1984, when he reportedly finished lame. Grittar did not race again, and retired to his owner- trainer Frank Gilman’s farm at Glaston, in Rutland, where he had been born and trained.
Dick Saunders made a few attempts to hunt with him, recalled Mrs Gilman, “but Grit was appalling. He just didn’t fancy being field master: he wanted to be at the front.” Grittar was therefore allowed a less active retirement, and has not been ridden at all since 1987. In the summer he is turned out with the Gilmans’ younger horses. “He knows he’s the real elder statesman,” Mrs Gilman said, “and presumes that any visitors are there to see him exclusively. When he gets above himself, we remind him that he was only fifth in the Gold Cup!”
JENNY PITMAN’S Corbiere, one of the great Aintree horses of recent times and to date the only Grand National winner trained by a woman, ran in five consecutive Nationals – winner in 1983, third in 1984 and 1985, faller at the fourth in 1986, 12th in 1987. The 1985 third gave Peter Scudamore his best Grand National placing and one of the most memorable rides in a career that produced 1,678 winners: “Corbiere was absolutely brilliant that day, going tremendously well until the weight began to tell. He was a funny horse for a National winner – very short in front – but when you weren’t rushing him he was a lovely ride.” Corbiere’s athletic qualities stood him in good stead in a short-lived retirement. He remained in Mrs Pitman’s care, hunting regularly – occasionally with the former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe – and even competing in show events. Corbiere died in December 1988, a few days short of his official 14th birthday.
1985: Last Suspect
THE barnstorming, tail-swishing sweep of Last Suspect in 1985 which collared Mr Snugfit in the shadow of the winning post was one of the great National finishes of recent memory. But Last Suspect could not reach such heights again, although he finished his career on a winning note at Chepstow as a 13-year-old in March 1987. He was retired to the Cheshire estate of his owner, Anne, Duchess of Westminster (whose black and yellow colours were made famous byArkle), where he hunted before dying a couple of years ago.
1984: Hallo Dandy
HALLO DANDY ran in four Nationals: he was fourth to Corbiere in 1983, winner from Greasepaint in 1984, fell at the first in 1985, and 12th in 1986. He did not race again, but was loaned by his owners for hunting, and spent eight years following hounds. Sadly, by the summer of 1994 the condition of this magnificent horse had shown a serious deterioration, and it was intended that he should be put down. But his owners insisted he be given another chance and he was sent to the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre in Kendal, Cumbria, run by Carrie Humble. A registered charity, the centre is the only one of its kind in Europe, its purpose being to re-educate unwanted racehorses and find them new owners in different walks of equine life. The centre is not a sanctuary, but an exception was made for Hallo Dandy. “He was in a dreadful state when he came to me last October,” Ms Humble said. “He’d given up the ghost. I’ve no idea how he could have come to be in such a condition. I didn’t perform any veterinary miracles on him, but he responded to care and has come fully back to health.” Hallo Dandy plays a vital role in the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre. “When horses come to me from racing they haven’t had experience of social behaviour, and they learn much more quickly in herds. Whenever I get new horses, I put them out in a field with Dandy for a month or two, and he does wonders with them.” The bad times are now firmly behind Hallo Dandy. “He’s 22 but he acts like a five-year-old, a total character. He’ll drag me sideways down the road and leave hoofprints in people’s gardens. I love him.”
LUCIUS went hunting after his racing career ended and was retired fully at the age of 19. He lives with his lifelong owner, Fiona Whitaker, in Perthshire. “He’s a lovely, well- mannered fellow,” Mrs Whitaker said, “and a very good companion for youngsters. I’d trust him with anything. He plays nanny a lot nowadays, and at the moment he’s keeping a foal company.” At 26, Lucius is the oldest surviving Grand National winner bar Red Rum. “He’s never had quite as hectic a schedule as Rummy,” his owner joked, “though he has made the occasional guest appearance on the racecourse. As you would expect, he is starting to look his age a little bit, but he’s quite happy.”
1986: West Tip
BY ANY standards, West Tip has to be one of the best Aintree horses of the modern era. He ran in the Grand National six times, winning under Richard Dunwoody, coming second in 1989 and fourth in both 1987 and 1988. In addition to his wonderful Liverpool record, West Tip ran at the Cheltenham Festival in nine consecutive years. Now 18, West Tip is enjoying life in the care of 16-year-old Becky Titterton at her parents’ farm at Hatton, Warwickshire. “He came here in March 1991 just for a couple of weeks to get fit for a charity race at Warwick, and stayed on,” said Becky, who helped her Pony Club team win the Best Young Riders’ prize in 1993 while on West Tip. Becky’s mother Jenny Titterton acknowledges that West Tip “feels his old legs”, but he hunts occasionally and is ridden regularly. He appeared at the Motor Show last year to mark Richard Dunwoody’s sponsorship deal with Saab, and he still receives cards on his birthday and at Christmas.
1987: Maori Venture
MAORI VENTURE’S owner, the late Jim Joel, gave the horse to jockey Steve Knight after they had beaten The Tsarevich to win the National. Steve Knight is now head lad at Richard Hannon’s yard near Marlborough, Wiltshire, and Maori Venture lives with him at his home a few miles away. “A farmer kindly lets me keep the horse in one of his fields,” Knight said. “Maori Venture is 20 now, and though he’s not ridden out he’s in good form and thoroughly enjoying retirement.”
1988: Rhyme ‘N’ Reason
THE image which sticks most tenaciously from Rhyme ‘N’ Reason’s Grand National victory is of his slither along the ground after stumbling at Becher’s first time round. Brendan Powell made a remarkable recovery and the horse showed extraordinary resilience to get back into the race and beat Durham Edition, but it was only afterwards that Rhyme ‘N’ Reason’s true heroism become apparent. He had sustained a hairline fracture of the near hind leg – almost certainly in that Becher’s incident – and could never race again. Later in 1988 there were serious doubts as to whether Rhyme ‘N’ Reason – the only horse since the war to win the Grand National and the Irish Grand National – could even be saved for the retirement. He underwent an operation at Bristol University during which a large chip of bone was cut out of his hock, and for a while there seemed to be barely an even- money chance of keeping him alive. But this is a horse of remarkable courage. He pulled through, and is now enjoying what his owner, Juliet Reed, terms a “muddy retirement” at her stud near Newbury. Reed affectionately describes her old hero – now 16 – as “fat as anything”. Occasionally taken for a quiet hack around the roads, he leads out the stud’s yearlings when they are being broken. But his behaviour is not invariably impeccable – hesulks when confined to his box on a day he feels he should be out, and vents his frustration on its walls.
THE first – and to date the only – Grand National winner trained in Scotland, Rubstic ran twice more in the National after his 1979 victory over Zongalero, falling at the Chair in 1980 and coming seventh behind Aldaniti in 1981. He spent his retirement under the care of his former trainer, John Leadbetter, near Berwick, where he died peacefully on 15 January this year, aged 26.
1980: Ben Nevis
BEN NEVIS, winner of two Maryland Hunt Cups as well as the National, retired after his Liverpool victory to the Maryland farm of his rider, Charlie Fenwick, where he was put down after a bout of colic on 26 February this year. “Ben was 27 years old and to the best of my knowledge had never been ill in his life,” Fenwick said. He spent the last 10 years in total retirement on my farm with his sidekick, Dosdi, who had also won the Maryland Hunt Cup as well as 20 other races in the United States. They were extremely close companions and each hated to leave the other’s side. Ben Nevis was buried on the American Grand National timber course, where he holds the track record. He will be missed, but I am sure he is very happy.”
1989: Little Polveir
LITTLE POLVEIR is enjoying his retirement living with his owners, the Harvey family, near Bishops Stortford in Hertfordshire. The gelding was bought to be Jack Harvey’s ride in the Grand Military Gold Cup, and the Grand National was something of a fortuitous afterthought. Little Polveir is now 18, and Jack’s father takes him hunting every couple of weeks. “He’s very popular locally,” Jack’s wife, Suzy, said. “We have no shortage of volunteers to ride him out. He’s still very perky, and we have to calm him down or he’ll buck his riders off!”
SEAGRAM’S run-in surge deprived Garrison Savannah of the Gold Cup-National double in 1991, and he continued racing – though with apparently diminishing enthusiasm for the game – until the Anthony Mildmay Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase at Sandown Park in January 1993, by which time he was 13. Pulled up in that race, his retirement was announced. But Seagram did not take to a quiet life, and earlier this season was put back into training with Josh Gifford, his previous trainer, David Barons, having himself retired. Seagram ran in three races last autumn, but unfortunately did not show any of his old sparkle and was retired again to his owner Sir Eric Parker’s Crimbourne Stud in West Sussex, from where he has been regularly hunted over the last two years. Still only 15, Seagram is too young for the sedentary life. “He gets very bored,” Sir Eric reported, “and as he’s always liked the atmosphere of a racing stables, we’re hoping to find him a place as a trainer’s hack. He’s in very good condition.” Any offers?
1990: Mr Frisk
ONE Grand National winner who has not been idle in his retirement is Mr Frisk, whose victory over Durham Edition in 1990 made history as the first time the National had ever been run in less than nine minutes – a time more than 14 seconds faster than Red Rum’s record clocking in 1973. The major factor in that record-breaking effort was the state of the going, which made the nearby M6 seem good to soft, but Mr Frisk set another record later in April 1990, when becoming the first National winner ever to win the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown Park. He was given by his owner Mrs Duffey to Tracey Bailey, wife of the gelding’s trainer, Kim, who has been eventing the horse, reaching intermediate level. The relationship between Mr Frisk and Mrs Bailey has long been special, and he still makes a fuss if she visits another horse in his part of Bailey’s Lambourn yard before paying due regard to her special favourite. Mr Frisk’s Grand National celebrity was no doubt instrumental in the sponsorship deal that Tracey has arranged with Vixen Horse Feeds, who provide all the old campaigner’s nosh. Tracey now plans to aim him at the Marlborough Cup, to be run on 14 May over 18 timber fences on the gallops next to Barbury Castle point- to-point course in Wiltshire. According to Mrs Bailey: “Mr Frisk may be 16 but he’s behaving like a lunatic! Riding him in the Marlborough Cup is something I would really like do, but the horse must come first – he must be 100 per cent fit and well – and the ground would have to be right.” But run or not, the famously headstrong Mr Frisk is certain to remain active – and then some.
1992: Party Politics
THE gigantic Party Politics, at over 18 hands the tallest horse in training, is now 11 years old and still in active service with Nick Gaselee in Lambourn. Failure to cope with heavy going at Haydock Park last time out has not dented stable confidence that he can become the first horse since Red Rum to win the National twice.
1993: Esha Ness
IMMORTALISED as “winner” of The Race That Never Was after the double false start fiasco, Esha Ness will have no more than an outside chance of putting the record straight on Saturday. He is now 12, so for Jenny Pitman’s gelding this year is the last realistic opportunity to avoid consignment to a lasting fame in pub quizzes.
MIINNEHOMA, now 12, came a creditable third to Master Oats in the Cheltenham Gold Cup which has made him all the rage in this year’s ante-post market. His owner Freddie Starr was not at Aintree for the win last year and plans to steer well clear on Saturday.