On the 169th running of the Grand National can Many Clouds, last years winner, join that elite group of horses that retain the coveted National title by winning back-to-back? If he can he will be the first to do it in 42 years and will be welcomed back a hero.
No horse has achieved the feat since Red Rum, back in 1973 and 1974. Bred to be a sprinter, Rummy, as he was affectionately referred to by his fans, famously added to this feat when he won the race for an historic third time in 1977 (the Queen's Silver Jubilee year) after coming second in the two intervening years, a record that stands to this day. Incredibly, Red Rum never fell in a 100 races, perhaps testament to his jumping ability, and in 1978 was in line to contest the race for a sixth time. Unfortunately, a hairline fracture the day before the race meant he was withdrawn and subsequently retired, living out his days making celebrity appearances at charity events, grand openings and leading the parade of runners out before the race each year.
The great horse was a phenomenon and his record, to some extent, overshadows the performances of others who have also achieved that near impossible back-to-back success. Before Red Rum, Abd-El-Kader (1850 & 1851), The Colonel (1869 & 1870) and Reynoldstown (1935 & 1936) had also achieved this feat, despite many horses running in the race on many consecutive years. Indeed, many horses achieve the near impossible just by finishing the race on consecutive years.
It is such a feat that it wasn't until the 55th renewal of the world famous steeplechase that the first horse won consecutively. Abd-El-Kader, ridden by T Abbott and trained and owned by Joseph Osborne did just that. Standing at only 15 hands, the Irish bred steeplechaser is also one of the smallest horses to have won the great race and held the record for the fastest completion until 1893. Bred out of a coach horse mare, the Irish horse was known for his speed and stamina.
The Colonel was the second horse to achieve the feat. On only his second ever steeplechase the six-year-old stallion, ridden by jockey George Stevens and trained by R Roberts won his first National at odds of 100-7. The stallion didn't race again until the following National, where despite carrying a 19lb penalty and having no race experience that season, went off as the favourite to win the race by a neck, once again partnered by George. The dual win also helped George become famous for having the most wins as a jockey in the Grand National, also riding Freetrader (1856), Emblem (1863) and Emblematic (1864) to victory before sadly loosing his life in a riding accident.
It wasn't for another sixty years that a horse would win back-to-back Nationals again. This time Reynoldstown took the honour, ridden by amateur jockey Fulke Walwyn at odds of 10/1 carrying 12st 2lb. His feat is now recognised in the Reynoldstown Novice's Chase held at Ascot in February, a gruelling 3 mile race with 20 fences and an important trial race for the RSA at The Cheltenham Festival.
There is a pattern of a few decades between each back-to-back winner, could we see another this year. We watch with baited breath.
The photo of Red Rum and Brian Fletcher is by kind courtesy of Gerald Segasby www.segaspicturegallery.co.uk