Advent blog: The Lamb of winter

2nd December 2013

One of the iconic horses of the Grand National, The Lamb defied his small stature and seemingly gentle sounding name to win horse racing’s most demanding contest twice, and also recovered from a career threatening illness in the interim. He certainly needed no shepherd.

Foaled in 1862, The Lamb was the product of an unauthorised union between Mr Courtenay’s stallion Zouave and an unnamed mare owned by his neighbour, Henchy. The Lamb’s connections were themselves entrenched in Grand National lore, as Courtenay had owned the winner of the 1847 victor, Matthew, while his dam was a daughter of the 1840 second place finisher, Arthur. The Lamb himself was a scrawny little grey, barely 15 hands 2 inches tall. He was considered little more than a pet for Henchy’s son, who named him on account of his gentle nature.


However, The Lamb did possess some spirit, and demonstrated his jumping prowess early on by hurdling his paddock fence several times. Sold as a three year old for thirty pounds, he won some minor Flat races while also hunting, but was deemed to be ‘not strong enough to carry a man’s boots’. It was only after he triumphed in the Kildare Hunt Plate at Punchestown and was sold to Lord Powlett that his career really began to take off.


Sent for conditioning with amateur jockey George Ede, The Lamb entered the 1868 Grand National picture under a weight of 10-07 and was fairly well fancied at around 9/1. The race was typically eventful, with the favourite Chimney Sweep striking a boulder lining the course, and Fan refusing at only the second fence. The Lamb defied his small size by jumping boldly and laying up with the pace with Pearl Diver. From the first time over Becher’s, these two controlled the race, and when Pearl Diver kicked for home, only the diminutive grey could go with him. A head to head tussle played out from the last fence, until George Ede wrung every ounce of his courage from his horse and crossed the line two lengths in front.


It was a tremendous win, and as a six year old The Lamb was expected to attempt a double in the race the following year. Unfortunately, he contracted a wasting disease that not only derailed his career, but threatened his very life. He did manage to run some races the following season, including in the Grand Sefton Steeplechase the day after the National.


Illness ultimately kept The Lamb from the National for two years, and his return in the 1871 renewal was without George Ede, who had sadly died in the meantime. Instead, Lord Poulett recruited the services of Tommy Pickernell on the premise of a prophetic dream four months before the race. In a secret letter, Poulett described watching The Lamb win with Pickernell on board, and implored him to ride the horse.


Although The Lamb had been absent for a long time, he was rated second favourite at 11/2, and his chances were seemingly given another prophetic boost when an escaped lamb dashed along the racetrack on the first day of the Grand National meeting.


Under 11-05, The Lamb did not have entirely straightforward race and appeared to struggle with the course surface as well as having to jump over fallen horses at Canal Turn. True to form, he kept jumping the fences in a faultless round and wore down the leaders to win in record time by two lengths. The jubilant crowd scarcely let the horse back to the winners enclosure, and The Lamb lost a good deal of his tail to souvenir hunters.


He finished fourth in 1872 under 12-07, but was sadly later killed in a fall during a chase at Baden in Germany. Nonetheless, he remains a legend of the National as the first grey and one the smallest horses to win the great race.

By Alice Kay