The race that eventually became the Grand National was derived from an earlier, and highly successful, race, known as the St. Albans Grand Steeplechase, which was first staged in 1830. A steeplechase, known as the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase, was run at Aintree on February 29, 1836 and was won by The Duke, trained by Mr. W. Sirdefield and ridden by Captain Martin Becher. However, the ‘official’ status of this race, and subsequent renewals in 1837 and 1838 – which some sources state took place not at Aintree, but at nearby Maghull – was revoked later in the nineteenth century.
Most racing historians accept that the first official running of the Grand National – although the title ‘Grand National Handicap Steeplechase’ was not adopted until 1847 – was the 1839 renewal of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase. That race, too, was staged at Aintree, on February 26, 1839, and attracted seventeen runners. The winner on that occasion was Lottery, trained, at least as far as the record books are concerned, by George Dockeray, and ridden by James ‘Jem’ Mason. The nine-year-old took the lead at the fence known simply as the ‘First Brook’ – although it would soon gain notoriety thanks to the exploits of the aforementioned Captain Becher – and was never headed, eventually winning easily.
For nearly eight decades, the record for the most consecutive wins at the Cheltenham Festival was held by the legendary Golden Miller, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup an unprecedented five years running between 1932 and 1936. However, in 2013, the French-bred mare Quevega, trained by Willie Mullins, won the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle for the fifth successive year, thereby equalling the feat of Golden Miller. In 2014, as a 10-year-old, Quevega returned to the Cheltenham Festival to win the same race for the sixth consecutive year and take the record outright.
Originally acquired by Willie Mullins from France, as a 4-year-old, in 2008, Quevega was lightly raced throughout her career and, between 2010 and 2014 only ever contested the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the World Series Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, which she also won four years running between 2010 and 2014. The daughter of Robin Des Champs started favourite for all six attempts at the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle and odds-on favourite for the last four. All in all, she won 16 of her 24 races and just over £536,000 in win and place prize money. Unsurprisingly, Quevega was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cheltenham Racecourse in 2016.
The jockey who holds the record for the highest number of Cheltenham Festival winners in a single year is Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh. Walsh retired from the saddle on May 1, 2019, just two weeks shy of his fortieth birthday but, by the end of his career, had ridden a total of 59 Cheltenham Festival winners and become leading jockey at the Festival on 11 occasions between 2004 and 2017. Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner on Alexander Banquet in the Champion Bumper, as an 18-year-old amateur, in 1998 but, as a professional, rode seven winners over the four days of the Festival not once, but twice.
His first record-breaking haul came in 2009, when his notable winners included Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle, now the Stayers’ Hurdle, and Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, all for Paul Nicholls. Of course, Walsh and Nicholls parted company in 2013, with Walsh choosing to concentrate on riding for Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins. However, the end of one of the most successful partnerships in the history of National Hunt racing did Walsh little harm as far as the Cheltenham Festival was concerned. Indeed, in 2016, Walsh equalled his own record by riding seven winners, all trained by Mullins, at the Festival. Notable winners that year included Douvan in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and the ill-fated Vautour in the Ryanair Chase.
In horse racing, a dead-heat – where two, or more, horses cannot be separated, not even by a high resolution photo finish camera – is a rare occurrence. Nevertheless, dead-heats do happen and, while hardly commonplace, triple dead heats are not unknown. In Britain, all the triple dead-heats and, believe it or not, a few quadruple dead-heats, were recorded before the introduction of the photo-finish camera in 1947.
However, elsewhere in the world, several bona fide triple dead-heats have been captured in official photographs down the years. In the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct Racecourse, in New York City, in June 1944, for example, Brownie, Bossuet and Wait A Bit crossed the line in unison to record the first triple dead-heat in a stakes race. A dozen years later, in November, 1956, Ark Royal, Fighting Force and Pandie Sun did likewise in the Hotham Handicap at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. Even as recently as April, 2014, in an otherwise nondescript maiden claiming race at Evangeline Downs, in Louisiana, All In The Art, Chessie Slew, and Memories Of Trina all hit the finishing line simultaneously.