The 50th anniversary of ‘Foinavon,’ the most unexpected Grand National winner
There are many anniversaries to be celebrated during the 2017 Randox Health Grand National, and one of them will be of the most unexpected victory in 1967. A horse no-one ever thought could win did just that 50 years ago. Foinavon and his jockey -John Buckingham – entered the history books.
This year, John’s widow and 70 of their closest friends and family will be coming to Aintree to mark the anniversary.
It’s being marked in a special BBC Merseyside tribute by the well-known racing correspondent Mike Hughes, who was the last person to interview John.
This Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National marks fifty years to the very day of the most extraordinary race in Aintree history.
Foinavon was the 100/1 winner in 1967 but the huge price about the winner was only part of the story.
Given the challenging nature of the course of the world’s most famous race, there’d been the usually array of fallers on the first circuit. Becher’s Brook has a fearsome reputation as one of the most difficult fences in National Hunt racing, but all the horses left standing on the second circuit managed to jump it.
Next up was the 23rd fence, the smallest on the course, nobody could have foreseen what was to happen.
A loose horse, Popham Down refused and turned away from the fence – preventing almost every other horse from clearing the fence. Except one. Foinavon was thirty lengths off the pace, and under the expertise of jockey John Buckingham , managed to pick a way through and jumped Becher’s like a stag.
The favourite for the race Honey End remounted and was making up ground but Foinavon drew clear to win the race in emphatic fashion.
John Buckingham was the toast of the weighing room and his fellow jockeys praised him to the heavens. Incredibly John only got the ride on Foinavon on the Wednesday before the race after three jockeys had turned down the ride. The night before the race he slept on two armchairs in a nearby Guest House.
Foinavon’s victory was so unexpected that even the horse’s owner and trainer were elsewhere on the day.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the race, BBC Radio Merseyside have put together a documentary, called simply “Foinavon”
It will be broadcast this Wednesday night on Merseyside Sport 6-7pm.
The programme includes an interview with the hero of the day John Buckingham. I travelled down to Chipping Warden to speak to John in early December last year. He couldn’t have been more charming and informative. Sadly John died unexpectedly a couple of weeks later.
It was the last interview he ever did.
On Randox Health Grand National day this Saturday, John’s wife Anne and seventy of their friends and family are coming to Aintree to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the day that John and Foimavon wrote their names in sporting history.
You can listen to “Foinavon” on Wednesday night on Merseyside Sport at 6.15 pm, or on www.bbc.co.uk/radiomerseyside or on the BBC iPlayer for Radio App.
For more information please contact Randox PR on 028 9442 2413 or email RandoxPR@randox.com
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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