Weight-for-Age (WFA) is a weight allowance given to younger horses, usually three-year-olds, to compensate for their lack of physical maturity and allow them to compete with older, mature horses on equal terms, at least in theory. The so-called Weight-for-Age Scale was first formalised by Admiral Henry John Rous, Jockey Club Steward, in the mid-nineteenth century and, although it has been revised several times over the years, the underlying principle remains the same. The modern Weight-for-Age Scale is a table that lays down, fortnight by fortnight, how much weight horses of different ages should receive from their elders, over different distances, until they reach maturity at the age of four years. The weight allowance decreases, in linear fashion, as the year progresses, and is based on the development of the theoretical ‘average’ horse.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, amateur, or ‘gentleman’, riders regularly participated in, and won, the Grand National. However, throughout the twentieth century, as National Hunt racing became more commercialised, amateur participation in the Grand National dwindled. In fact, nowadays, amateur riders in the Grand National are very few and far between.
Amateur Katie Walsh, who retired from race riding in April, 2018, went close to winning the Grand National at her first attempt in 2012, when her mount, Seabass, led from the second-last fence until the Elbow, halfway up the run-in, before fading to finish third. The last amateur rider to win the National, though, was Marcus Armytage who, in 1990, partnered Mr. Frisk to a three-quarters-of-a-length victory over Durham Edition. In the last ever National run on going officially described as ‘firm’ – nowadays, the National Course is routinely watered to prevent going faster than ‘good to soft’ – Mr. Frisk set a course record time of 8 minutes 47.8 seconds. Armytage, nowadays racing correspondent for ‘The Telegraph’, later wrote that his ‘first emotion was relief at not having cocked up’.
The fifteenth fence, known as ‘The Chair’, is both the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National course. The fence, itself, stands 4’ 8” high, but the ground on the landing side is actually 6” higher than that on the take-off side, so horses must clear a total height of 5’ 2”. Breadth-wise, The Chair measures 3’ 0”, but is preceded by a ditch, 6’ 0” across, to create a total breadth of 9’ 0”.
Along with the sixteenth fence, the Water Jump, The Chair is jumped just once during the Grand National. By contrast, ‘Becher’s Brook’ is jumped twice, as the sixth and twenty-second fence. Again, the fence, itself, stands just 4’ 10” high, but the lie of the land means that it is effectively 6’ 9” high, from the top of the fence to ground level, on the landing side.
The simple answer is no, at least, not yet. The first lady jockey to ride in the Grand National was Charlotte Brew, who failed to complete the course on her own horse, Barony Court, in 1977. The first lady jockey to complete the Grand National course was Geraldine Rees, on Cheers, in 1982 and although several other lady jockeys have done so subsequently few of them have threatened to win the world famous steeplechase. So far, those to have achieved the highest placings are Rosemary Henderson, on Fiddlers Pike, Carrie Ford, on Forest Gunner, and Bryony Frost, on Milansbar, who all finished fifth, in 1994, 2005 and 2018, respectively, and Katie Walsh, on Seabass, who finished third in 2012.