Charles, Prince of Wales, made his debut as an amateur jockey, at the age of 31, in a charity race at Plumpton on March 4, 1980. He finished second aboard favourite Long Wharf and, just four days later, finished fourth aboard Sea Swell in his first steeplechase at Sandown. Later the same year, on October 24 – on the first occasion he and Lady Diana Spencer had been seen together in public – Charles rode his own horse, Allibar, into a highly creditable second place in an amateur riders’ handicap chase at Ludlow. After a promising start, it would be fair to say that the remainder of Charles’ brief riding career was not altogether happy.
In early 1981, Allibar collapsed and died while being ridden out one morning and Charles was subsequently unseated twice, in the space of five days, from his own horse, Good Prospect, including famously in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. He rode his sixth, and final, race at Newton Abbott on May 21, 1981, finishing ninth on Upton Grey, owned by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; his career form figures read ‘242UU0’ so, while he came close once or twice, Prince Charles never did ride a winner as a jockey.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated, in it current guise, in 1924 and the Champion Hurdle in 1927 but, in over nine decades, just one horse has won both races. That horse, or mare, was Dawn Run who, in 1984, won the Champion Hurdle – as part of a unique treble, which also included the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteil – and, in 1986, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Dawn Run never ran in the Grand National; sadly, she suffered a broken neck during a fall in the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteil later in 1986.
However, two horses have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. In fact, the first of them, Golden Miller won both races in 1934 – the year in he recorded the third of his five consecutive wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and broke the course record at Aintree – and remains the only horse to do so in the same season. The second, L’Escargot, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years running, in 1970 and 1971, before denying Red Rum his third consecutive win in the Grand National, in 1975.
No horse may have ever won the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National, but one man who did was the late Fred Winter; in fact, he won all three races as a jockey and as a trainer.
Lester Piggott is arguably the greatest Flat jockey of all time. Between 1948 and 1995, he rode 4,493 winners on the Flat, including 30 British Classic winners, and became Champion Jockey 11 times. Piggott never rode over fences, so he could never have won the Grand National but, early in his career, he did ride successfully over hurdles.
In fact, Piggott rode his first winner over obstacles, Eldoret, at Wincanton on Boxing Day, 1953. The following spring – still three months before his first Derby winner, Never Say Die – he won the Birdlip Hurdle, the opening race at what became the Cheltenham Festival, on Mull Sack and the Triumph Hurdle, in those days run at the now-defunct Hurst Park, on Prince Charlemagne, within the space of a few days. All in all, between 1953 and 1959, Lester Piggott rode 20 winners over hurdles, mainly for his father, Keith.
Lester Piggott may never have won the Grand National, but his grandfather, Ernie, rode three Grand National winners – Jerry M in 1912 and Poethlyn in 1918 and 1919 – and his father saddled the 1963 Grand National winner, Ayala; perhaps the headline question is not quite so absurd, after all?