By winning back to back Grand Nationals Leighton Aspell joined an exclusive club. As the latest renewal beckons Tony Lake reflects on how the hat trick seekers of yesteryear fared.
On a Grand National Hat Trick
Tom Olliver won the race described in the Manchester Times as a “break-neck affair, so rife with hair breadth ‘scapes and dangerous incidents” on Gaylad (1842) and Vanguard (1843). His hopes of a hat trick rested with Lord Maidstone’s Witherton. In a race run at a “severe pace throughout” the partnership was never prominent and pulled-up in the country. However, the six-year-old was saved from further exertion that day when Hon Sidney Herbert forfeited a scheduled four-mile match against his Arctic!The popular Olliver, who was runner-up in the race three times, was to secure a third victory in 1853 on Peter Simple.
George Stevens won five Grand Nationals setting a record that has stood the test of time. He won his first on Freetrader in 1856 and was successful again aboard full sisters Emblem and Emblematic in 1863 and 1864. Having to choose between Lord Coventry’s pair in 1865 he picked Emblematic who started 4/1 favourite. The mare ran well, but had no answer to Alcibiade’s turn of foot in the closing stages, and finished third.
In 1871 Stevens was looking for three on the bounce again. After winning the previous two on The Colonel he remained loyal to Baron Oppenheim’s gelding, but in the preliminaries The Graphic noted that the old horse “seemed to have lost his old fire”. He had, with The Lamb winning the race for a second time, with Stevens and The Colonel never a factor, plodding on in sixth.
Mr John Maunsell Richardson was one of the great gentleman riders of his day and was sought after by the shrewd Captain Machell to prepare his “Liverpool” hopes at his Limber Magna stable and ride them in the big race. Successful in 1873 and 1874 with Disturbance and Reugny the pair famously fell out. Serious gambler Machell felt that Richardson had shared Reugny’s chances with fellow Lincolnshire farmers causing him to miss out on long odds. The rider known as “The Cat” was offended by the allegation and quit the saddle after the race. "And I have never since regretted the step I took," he wrote in his “Gentlemen riders: past and present”.
Mr Tommy Beasley “perhaps the most accomplished” of all gentlemen riders, according to Harry Sargent in “Thoughts upon Sport”, had a terrific Grand National record riding for Henry Linde. After finishing third, on Martha, in 1879, he won on Empress in 1880 and Woodbrook in 1881. He looked odds-on to make it three in a row when Cyrus led after the last, but he was pipped on the line by Lord Manners who was landing an audacious £10000 to £100 gamble.
Twelve months earlier, “Hoppy” had made a bet that he would own and ride the winner of the Grand National. Mentored by Captain Machell, Manners bought Seaman for £2000 from Cyrus’s owner-breeder, John Gubbins. Gubbins sold on the advice of Linde as the “Wizard of Eyrefield Lodge” believed that the horse they had enjoyed success with in the Coynygham Cup and Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil was not sound enough to be trained for the Grand National. Nonetheless despite a woeful lack of race-riding experience Manners beat Beasley by a short head. Beasley had to wait another seven years before winning his third National, on Frigate.
Mr EP Wilson won the “cross-country Derby” on Voluptuary (1884) and Roquefort (1885). Punters were relieved that Ted recovered from injury in time to team up with the hard pulling gelding again in 1886 and made Roquefort second favourite at 5/1. The son of Winslow out of Cream Cheese by Parmesan was still going well when he over-jumped and toppled on landing at the third fence on the second circuit. Wilson, the last “gentleman rider” to win consecutive Nationals, started the race five more times but never completed.
Ernie Piggott won the 1918 'War National Steeplechase' run at Gatwick and the real thing at Aintree, following the armistice, on Poethlyn. In 1920, he rode the same horse, described by The Times as “supposedly invincible” after eleven consecutive victories. The 3/1 favourite’s fate was soon sealed as Mrs Peel’s horse did not rise high enough at the first fence, and, hitting the top, came down in the race won by Troytown.
Bryan Marshall was the next jockey to win consecutive Nationals, taking the race with Early Mist (1953) and Royal Tan (1954). Both horses were trained by Vincent O’Brien and in 1955 the Master of Ballydoyle was four handed, running Quare Times and Oriental Way as well as his previous winners. O’Brien put Marshall up on the classy Early Mist but in reality the 10-year-old had little chance carrying 12st 3lb in bottomless going. He finished ninth behind the Pat Taaffe ridden Quare Times, a horse Marshall rode to victory on his debut over fences at Gowran Park.
Brian Fletcher won the 1968 Grand National on Red Alligator but will always be remembered for partnering Red Rum in 1973 and 1974. In their hat trick year, “Rummy” was asked to carry 12st and give 11lb to dual Gold Cup winner L’Escargot. He failed with Tommy Carberry’s partner sprinting away from him after the last. As Fletcher said in the post-race interview, the weight “was nothing to do with it. Red Rum is two stone better on fast ground. He was never going at any stage. I was pushing and niggling throughout. I even thought that I’d have to pull up on the first circuit…We were expected to win. It was all too much.”
“It was all too much”. Indeed, in the Grand National’s history that seems to be the stock answer to the question “can a jockey land a hat trick?” Where Olliver, Stevens and Beasley etc have failed can Aspell succeed?
The photo of Red Rum and Brian Fletcher is by kind courtesy of Gerald Segasby www.segaspicturegallery.co.uk