What makes the Grand National so famous?
Not only is the clue in the name but it is the distance of the race combined with the number of runners and the difficulty of the 16 unique fences that has earned it a reputation for being one of the toughest tests of horsemanship. Winners return heroes, having mastered the fearsome fences and each year stories emerge that capture the masses. Indeed for many it is the stories that make the race so special.
Looking back, there is certainly no shortage of recognisable and memorable names from the household favourite Red Rum and Ginger McCain to Neptune Collonges, who won in one of the closest contested finishes of the race's 173 year history.
One that stands out is that of young Bruce Hobbs who partnered Battleship and, despite the odds, rode to victory in 1938 to become the youngest jockey to win the National, a record that still stands. Just three months after his 17th birthday Bruce was given the ride by his father Reg who trained the American bred stallion. Two weeks after his victory Bruce won the Welsh National on the Gwynn Evans trained Timber Wolf. Later that season Bruce went on to win Long Island's Cedarhurst Grand National to become the first jockey to win three versions of the race in one season.
Battleship also holds a record that today still stands. Not only was the son of Man O'War the smallest horse to win the Grand National since 1871 at 15.2 hands, but he aptly won both the English and American versions of the great race.
Having been bred to race on the flat and winning 10 of 22 starts Battleship was sold following lameness to Marion DuPont Scott who had already purchased a son of Man O'War and was after a horse of similar breeding. Battleship was trained over fences and went on to win the American Grand National at Belmont Park in 1934 under accomplished artist and jockey Carroll Basset. Battleship was shipped to the UK in 1935 where he was trained by Reg Hobbs who entered him into the National in 1938 after winning several minor events.
Battleship, the handsome chestnut and Bruce Hobbs, the youngest jockey in the field, were sent off at 40-1. Many of the runners fell at the first fence but Battleship completed the 4 miles 4 furlongs to cross the line in a photo finish with Royal Danieli. Battleship was declared the winner in a fast time of 9 minutes and 29.5 seconds carrying 160lbs. In June that year Bruce and his father Reg accompanied the stallion back to the USA where he was retired to stud.
In 1938, Bruce had a fall that resulted in spinal injury. Despite being told that he would never ride again Bruce made a full recovery and returned to the saddle. However, after serving in the War where he quickly rose to captain and was awarded the Military Cross he returned to heavy to resume riding at the same level and at the age of 25 turned his talents to training, sending out winners such as champion 2 year old fillies Jacinth, Melchbourne and Cry of Truth.
There is a tenuous link to the Palace House and Stables site in Bruce Hobbs, who was the last trainer to train horses out of the yard, retiring in 1985. The Grand National, of course features in the Museum and we will wait with baited breath to see what stories might emerge from this year's great race.
By Roz Howling