The countdown to the Randox Health Grand National continues, with only two weeks to go before the first day of the Festival.
And there’s no one who knows the history of the race better than Aintree Racecourse Chairman, Rose Paterson. Today she shares her memories of her favourite horse, Foinavon, and why his unexpected Grand National win in 1967 has become an iconic moment in the history of the great race.
Foinavon is the Forrest Gump of Grand National history, the horse who became immortal despite his best endeavours.
Bred in the purple by the great stallion Vulgan, he was bought as a youngster by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, one of the pre-eminent National Hunt owners of her generation and sent to Tom Dreaper, the Willie Mullins of his day, along with another young horse, Arkle. Both horses were named after mountains on the Westminsters’ Invernesshire estate.
However, while Arkle went on to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups and become the benchmark for NH greatness, Foinavon’s trajectory was in a different direction. Pat Taaffe, Dreaper’s stable jockey, said of him “I never came across a horse with less ambition.”
The final straw was when after a heavy fall, Taaffe scrambled to his feet, desperately worried for Foinavon, who had failed to rise. He found him sitting comfortably on the ground, eating grass.
It was a short journey from this incident to Doncaster sales, where he was snapped up by small time trainer and part-time farrier John Kempton, entirely because he had qualified for the Grand National and one of his few owners, Cyril Watkins, was desperate for a runner. By this time, Foinavon had acquired a white goat named Suzie as a companion, who travelled everywhere with him and with whom he developed a love/hate relationship.
A year later, after 17 consecutive losing runs, Foinavon was ready to have a go. He had already run in the Gold Cup three weeks earlier, at 500-1 and no less than twice since then, without distinction. His jockey, John Buckingham, was the trainer’s third choice and neither owner or trainer could be bothered to make the five hour journey to Aintree.
When the disaster caused by loose horses Popham Down and April Rose unfolded at the smallest fence on the course, universally described as “the one after Becher’s,” Foinavon was so far behind the leaders that he was able to pop a gap in the fence and trundle on to the Canal Turn, leaving a scene of mayhem in his wake.
It was the combination of an intelligent, experienced jockey and an unusually placid horse that probably won him the race.
At the time, the result was seen as a disaster and an embarrassing fiasco. 50 years on, Foinavon’s win seems an iconic moment in the history of the great race.
It was about luck, fate, the victory of the outsider, the 100 – 1 dream come true.
Not for nothing was the first winner of the Grand National called Lottery and there is an equally good reason why the 7th and 23rd fence is now known as Foinavon.
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