With the Aintree Festival only a few days away our latest Palace House blog features an interview with Charlotte Budd, née Brew, who in 1977 aged 21, became the First Woman to ride in the Grand National.
Charlotte’s photograph can also be viewed in Anita Corbin’s fabulous 100 First Women exhibition currently on display at Palace House until 10 June.
What was your racing background?
My parents always had point to pointers but in livery yard so not at home. I came from a keen hunting family, my mother was secretary of the local hunt and my father used to hunt on Saturdays.
I did pony club and eventing. I first sat on a pony when I was 7 or 8 years of age and rode in point to points at 18. My brother had started when he was only 16.
Charlotte also spent time during her school holidays in 1975 working at Henry Cecil's Marriot House stables where she remembered Frank Conlon, who now works in the simulator gallery at Palace House.
How did you first get involved with Barony Fort?
I decided I wanted to go point to pointing. I loved galloping, jumping and going fast. My parents said we will buy you a horse for my eighteenth birthday and the owner of Barony Fort, Richard Redgrave, who lived in Norfolk brought the horse to the Newmarket Links for us to have a look at.
When he got out of the horse box I immediately thought this is the one for me. I had sat on lots horses by then but this horse gave me the most tremendous feel. I bombed him round the fences and came back grinning from ear to ear. It was a great place to try a horse out. I was so smitten with him. He cost £2,000. It wasn’t much even in those days.
He had a slightly deformed back leg which twisted when he walked. If he hadn’t had that he would have been a top chaser. It took the edge of him speed wise. He was bred to be a top chaser.
Barony Fort was a 17.1 hands chestnut gelding. His sire, Fortina, was the winner of the 1947 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Fortina was a highly successful National Hunt sire and his progeny included Gold Cup winners Fort Leney (1968) and Glencaraig Lady (1972).
What was he like as a horse?
He was lovely. Rather business like about everything. A fantastic jumper and lovely to look after, no trouble, he always ate everything up and just loved life.
When did you decide that you wanted to ride in the Grand National and when did you become aware that no women had ever ridden in the great race?
I never did. You couldn’t as a girl it was out of the question until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It wasn’t something I particularly hankered after doing. You simply couldn’t and that was the end of it.
When the Sex Equality Act came in girls could apply for licenses and the automatic thing was to go hunter chasing.
My friends had always said to me that he was a fantastic jumper and would jump round Aintree. And I was never going to let anyone else ride him. I just I entered him at Aintree for the 1976 Foxhunters Chase and in those days the entries only closed a few days beforehand. I just slipped under the wire before the Jockey Club noticed. There was very little publicity that I was going to do it.
It was one of the press who said to me after the race, are you going to have a go at the Grand National You do realise coming 4th in the Foxhunters you are automatically qualified to run in the Grand National. I had no idea of that. The Foxhunters was my second ride under rules, my first ride was at Huntingdon. (9 March 7th of 10 runners)
Charlotte had become the first woman to ride over one circuit of the National fences.
What was the build up to the race like and was there some open hostility towards you?
In the press I was there to be shot at early on as entries had been out for a while. There was quite a lot of interest; the tabloids were frightfully keen on the whole thing and the more serious press were against it. The annoying thing was that people would be interviewed by people but I was never given a chance to reply and some leading people in the industry were particularly negative and vocal about it.
I think they forgot I was only 20; I was just out of boarding school and very unable to deal with things like that.
How did you get fit for the race?
I was riding in two or three point to point every weekend. Every night I would go out running three or four miles, I did circuit training in the gym and swam every night.
And train Barony Fort?
Yes he was our family horse, he lived at home and I trained him at home in Essex.
We understand you received two special good luck telegrams on the eve of the race. Who were they from?
Bruce Hobbs, the youngest person to ride the winner of the Grand National on Battleship and Ryan Price both sent me good luck telegrams. They were two people I admired in racing. I never dared speak to them.
Fred Winter was interviewed on the television and he just said “well if those professional jockeys are afraid of one girl on a hunter they shouldn’t call themselves professionals." Those three people did boost me up.
At that time Bruce Hobbs was training at Palace House, Newmarket.
Ryan Price trained Kilmore to win the 1962 Grand National.
Fred Winter trained Jay Trump (1965) and Anglo (1966) to win the Grand National and rode Sundew (1957) and Kilmore (1962) to win the race.
What were your pre-race preparations on the night before the race?
Not an awful lot. I went dancing with fellow jockey Ian Watkinson, who was a great supporter.
Charlotte had stayed with her mother at the Park Hotel close to the course
Have you any other memories of the days leading up to the race?
In the stable yard Ossie Dale, the stable manager invited me in during the week for cups of tea in his tiny office covered in pictures of the Grand National and all the famous horses he had looked after.
When I arrived with Barony Fort we unloaded him at the same time as Peter O’Sullevan’s horse Attivo arrived. Peter O’Sullevan had arrived to see his horse and Charlotte remembered Peter saying “the big un and the little un”.
And on Race Day?
In the morning of the race I was looking after my own horse so I had to get up early, go and feed him muck him out and do all the things a stable person would do.
To be continued.....
Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services