After a fallow year due to circumstances that none of us could foresee the Randox Health Grand National returns on Saturday and oh boy, did I miss it last year.

Despite being run behind closed doors, apart from owners and trainers it will still make for the thrilling spectacle that it always has been, apart from the sad lack of colour and noise that the Merseyside faithful, always bring to this most iconic of all sporting events.

With no race last year I have had plenty time to re-watch some old ones on YouTube and occasionally listen to the theme music from the film “Champions” to remind me what I was missing and after enjoying the trip down memory lane, I decided to share with you my five favourite Grand Nationals.

Now when things like this come out you do always get the Red Rum, Aldiniti and Corbiere’s mentioned to name a few but for this I am keeping it to the ones of my life so as I was born in 1979, I’ll go no further back than 1988 as that was the earliest one I remember so let’s see what I have selected in a completely random manor –

My five favourite Grand National’s 

1, 1997 Grand National-Lord Gyllene

For many reasons this is always a race that stands out in Grand National history.

First up the race was ran on a Monday due to the entire course being evacuated from a coded IRA bomb warning, this meant everyone had to leave the course from racegoers, bookmakers, catering staff, owners, trainers, jockeys and media all had to make their way to the nearest exit.

Jim McGrath had to man the fort for 10 minutes or so all on his own in his commentary box down by the Canal Turn as Desmond Lynam having relocated outside to a car park stayed completely unflappable as Charles Barnet broke the news that racing was abandoned and that everyone including the BBC must leave immediately.

This meant Sir Peter O’Sullevan had to wait 48 hours before commentating on his 50th and final Grand National for the BBC and he called home the Sir Stan Clarke owned, Steve Brookshaw trained and Tony Dobbin ridden Lord Gyllene who jumped like a buck and made almost all the running as he ran away from the rest of the field.

2, 2013 Grand National-Auroras Encore

Back in 2016, I lost a very special friend of mine called Nigel to lung cancer and the week before the 2013 renewal we were at Haydock, which like myself was his local course and we were chatting about the National and the horses we liked and I mentioned that Auroras Encore for some reason, always came good in April and that despite his form not being the best, he could still not go ignored.

Come National day and I was at home for the big race where as Nigel was with his wife June, up at Newcastle for a weekend break with racing at Gosforth Park.

I’ll be honest, I was in absolute shock when he won, only had a quid each way but at 66-1 quite naturally I was in seventh heaven, up at Newcastle though Nigel was hoping that I’d done as I said and backed him, a few minutes later I sent him a text to say I had and he messaged me back congratulating me even though he hadn’t backed him himself.

3, 1991 Grand National-Seagram

Technically this was the first time I’d ever backed the winner of the National although I was only 12 at the time, which meant my Dad had to put the bet on for me for legal reasons!!!

As for the race itself, all eyes were on the Jenny Pitman trained and Mark Pitman ridden Garrison Savannah, who was bidding to become the first horse since 1934 to win both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season but on the run in under his jockey Nigel Hawke, Seagram rallied and ran past the favourite like he wasn’t there to deny the Pitman’s a famous double.

To have picked a National winner out at such a young age is something I’m quite rightly proud of and even now when it happens, it feels like an accomplishment in itself, nothing will ever beat backing a National winner in my opinion.

4, 2008 Grand National-Comply Or Die.

For myself this was a very significant running of the National, in 1992 one of my various 25p bets that I was allowed by my dad was on Party Politics & in a General Election year and after that I hadn’t tasted Aintree success since 2008, a very long barren spell indeed!

Comply Or Die was a horse I liked for the race ever since he hacked up in the Eider over 4m1f back in February and looked a proper National horse for the late David Johnson, trained by David Pipe & ridden by Timmy Murphy, who both gained their maiden National wins.

Commentator prophecy is also well to the fore here as coming down to Becher’s for the second time, Richard Hoiles says how AP is coming to his Nemesis on Butlers Cabin and again the pair parted company at the same fence as had happened before when a loose horse in a previous running carried both of them out.

5, 2017 Grand National-One For Arthur

Imagine, you’ve just gone past half way and are turning out for the second circuit, you have over twenty horses ahead of you and about seven behind, in theory it looks a difficult position to come from but that didn’t faze jockey Derek Fox one little bit as he steered home only the second ever Scottish trained winner to ensure the Saltire was flown over Merseyside as One For Arthur romped home to land the 2017 renewal for Lucinda Russell.

2017 was also ITV’s first ever Grand National of the race which previously was almost exclusively covered by the BBC before a brief four year period over on Channel 4 then all racing moved for many in a surprise to ITV and in all fairness, the coverage has been very good by the team and I can’t fault them at all although maybe a north west based pundit wouldn’t go amiss (hint hint).

One For Arthur was a horse, who caught my eye when I saw him run nicely in the Becher Chase before he landed the Classic Chase at Warwick, this was his biggest day in the sun and he fully deserved this win for his very underrated trainer.

So there you have five of my favourite Grand National’s, it’s the only race that really gets me nervous and excited on race day, no other race comes close in my view and even though Aintree will be silent from the raucous and passionate audience that piles into the old place, it will still tug at the heartstrings and pull the emotions all over the place in the nine or ten minutes that it takes to run.

Like everyone else who loves this sport I definitely want to back the winner as it’s always the one race along with the Derby on the flat that you always remember but more importantly I want all horses and jockeys to return safely.

Best of luck to everyone involved.

Written by Neil Watson.
Edited & Published by Arseonlineracing.

April 2021