This advent blog comes from Museum staff member and friend, Stephen Wallis.
In 1960, the Grand National was televised for the first time and Merryman II became the 114th winner of the Aintree spectacular, accompanied by Sir Peter O’Sullivan’s commentary and the attention of sixteen BBC cameras around the track.
Considering the race now conservatively reaches 600 million viewers globally, 1960 was a pivotal point in its history. Furthermore, Merryman II became the first Scottish horse to win the race and the last over the traditional upright fences before sloping aprons were introduced to make them easier in 1961.
Merryman II was foaled in 1951, when the Marques of Linlithgow’s daughter bred a half-breed mare, Maid Marion, to the Duke of Northumberland’s Champion Hurdle placed stallion, Carnival Boy. Sadly the Marques died before he saw the horse run and the family sold him as an unbroken five year old to Miss Winifred Wallace of Edinburgh for £470.
Miss Wallace hunted the horse with the Buccleuch hunt in the Scottish borders and rode him to success in several point to points, before entering him in the Buccleuch Hunters’ Chase at Kelso in April 1950, which he duly won by 20 lengths.
When the legendary northern trainer Captain Neville Crump saw Merryman II race in a hunter chase at Leicester in February 1959, he convinced Miss Wallace to transfer him to his stable at Middleham, North Yorkshire. Crump had already trained two winners of the Grand National in Shelia’s Cottage (1948) and Teal (1952). The Captain was a big man with an outgoing character, a real ambassador to the North and had been National Hunt champion trainer in the 1951/52 and 1956/57 seasons.
Merryman II had immediate success chasing, and won the Foxhunter Chase over the National fences in March, and the Scottish Grand National the following month by a convincing twelve lengths.
This led to Merryman II, a reliable jumper with Aintree experience, abundant stamina and a champion trainer, heading the betting for the 1960 Grand National at 13/2.
Unfortunately, eleven days before the big race, jockey Gerry Scott, suffered a double fracture to his collarbone when falling at Doncaster and his participation was in doubt. Fortunately, Crump showed great loyalty to his stable jockey and managed, on the eve of the race, to convince the panel of three course doctors (by two votes to one) that Scott was fit to ride.
Strapped from neck to waist, Scott and Merryman II’s main challengers were Wyndburgh, who had finished a close second in 1959, and Mr What, the 1958 winner. Wyndburgh fell at Becher’s bringing down Mr What, whilst Merryman II jumped superbly and never looked like falling. The horse was soon in the leading group, which was led by Tea Fiend, and moved up to second place by The Chair. As Tea Fiend faded, Scott took the lead four fences from home to win from Badanloch by a comfortable fifteen lengths. Merryman II had become the first clear favourite to win since Sprig in 1927.
The following year Merryman II put up a brave performance under 11st12lb to finish a very creditable second to the grey Nicholas Silver, who beat him five lengths under 10st1lb. Experienced jockey Derek Ancil took the ride as Scott was unfit to ride.
In his final Grand National attempt in 1962 the 11 year old carried top weight of 11st8lb and with Dave Dick on board (Scott was again injured) completed the demanding fences but came a well beaten thirteenth, although he kept his record of never falling round Aintree in four races.
After the 1962 Aintree National Merryman II had three more runs with his final race in the St Helen’s Handicap Steeplechase on 29 November 1962. Merryman II spent his retirement hunting and died in November 1966 at a meet of the North Northumberland hounds.
Gerry Scott’s catalogue of injuries finally caught up with him in 1971. After falling from a horse at Middleham, he spent ten days in a coma, and although he made a full recovery, the doctors ruled him unfit to ride in future, ending his career. He then embarked on the role of a race starter, which culminated in him pressing down the lever to start the 1996 Grand National won by Rough Quest. He therefore became the first person to ride the winner of and then start the world’s most famous horse race.