Which trainer and jockey combination was placed in seven consecutive renewals of the Grand National?

Despite numerous safety improvements down the years, the Grand National at Aintree can still, justifiably, be called ‘the ultimate test for horse and rider’. Indeed, many jockeys and trainers spend their whole careers attempting to win, or at least be placed in, the celebrated steeplechase. Of course, some jockeys and trainers are luckier than others, but to be placed in seven consecutive renewals, with three different horses, is no mean feat. That was the achievement of Vale of Glamorgan trainer Evan Williams and his erstwhile – now retired – stable jockey between 2009 and 2014 inclusive.

Interestingly, all three horses carried the blue and pink colours of Worcestershire owners Mr. & Mrs. William Rucker. State Of Play started the extraordinary run of good fortune for his connections by finishing fourth in 2009, third in 2010 and fourth again in 2011. Next into the Aintree unsaddling enclosure was Cappa Bleu, who finished fourth behind Neptune Collonges in 2012 and went one better when third behind Auroras Encore in 2013. Finally, completing the unlikely septet came Alvarado, who filled fourth place behind Pineau De Re in 2014 and occupied the same position behind Many Clouds in 2015.

Which are the ‘named’ fences on the Grand National Course?

The Grand National Course at Aintree consists of 16 fences, 14 of which are jumped twice during the Grand National, but five of them, namely Becher’s Brook, Foinavon, Canal Turn, Valentine’s Brook and The Chair, have become famous, or infamous, in their own right. Indeed, the first four of the ‘named’ fences come one after another in rapid succession.

The most famous of them all, Becher’s Brook, is the sixth fence on the first circuit and is named after Captain Martin Becher, who took shelter in the brook on the landing side after being unseated from his mount, Conrad, in the inaugural Grand National in 1839. The fence, itself, stands 4′ 10″ high, but a steep drop on the landing side, which is between 5″ and 10″ lower than the take-off side, makes Becher’s Brook a notoriously difficult obstacle.

Becher’s Brook is immediately followed by Foinavon, an unremarkable, 4′ 6″ high fence – in fact, one of the smallest on the Grand National Course – but, nevertheless, the scene of a dramatic melee during the 1967 Grand National. The 100/1 outsider, and eventual winner, Foinavon, was the only horse to jump the fence at the first time of asking and, in 1984, it was renamed in his honour.

The next fence, the eighth on the first circuit, is the Canal Turn, which takes its name from its position, near the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the fact that horses must negotiate a sharp left turn immediately after the fence. Next comes Valentine’s Brook, originally known simply as the Second Brook, but renamed after Valentine, the horse that negotiated the fence in bizarre, twisting fashion, apparently landing hind feet first, during the 1840 Grand National.

Last, but by no means least, of the ‘named’ fences, The Chair is the fifteenth, and penultimate, fence on the first circuit and is jumped just once. Originally known as the Monument Jump, The Chair stands 5’3″ high and has a 6′ wide ditch on the take-off side, making it the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National Course.

What is a ‘recall man’?

As the name suggests, a ‘recall man’, or ‘advance flag operator’, is a racecourse official, trained and accredited by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), who signals a false start to jockeys positioned furthest from the starter. The recall man is equipped with a yellow recall flag, of specific dimensions, which he must raise when signalled to do so by the starter, a white overcoat and a whistle. He is stationed some way down the track, say, on the run to the first fence in a steeplechase and, if the starter signals a false start, wave his flag above his head and blow his whistle until the field pulls up.

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, recall man in the history of British horse racing was Ken Evans, a part-time employee who was singled out, unfairly, by the Jockey Club for failing to stop what became known as the ‘Grand National that never was’ in 1993. Crucially, starter Keith Brown raised his flag to signal a second false start, but did not unfurl it, such that most of the jockeys, including ‘winning’ jockey John White, were unaware of any instruction to stop and set off around the racecourse.

Who is Martin Pipe?

Martin Pipe, who officially retired, due to poor health, in April, 2006, was a revolutionary, often controversial, trainer, who dominated British National Hunt racing from the late Eighties until the early Noughties. In fact, Pipe won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship 15 times in all between 1988/89 and 2004/05, including ten seasons in a row between 1995/96 and 2004/05; indeed, he relinquished his reign as Champion trainer only briefly, to the late David Nicholson, in 1993/94 and 1994/95.

Based at Pond House, Nicholashayne, on the Devon-Somerset border, Pipe trained his first winner, Hit Parade, at Taunton in 1975 but, in his 30-year career, would amass a total of 4,180 winners, more than any other National Hunt trainer in history. He saddled 34 winners at the Cheltenham Festival including Granville Again and Make A Stand in the Champion Hurdle, in 1993 and 1997, respectively, and won the Grand National with Miinnehoma im 1994. Indeed, he trained over 200 winners in a season, including a then record 243 in 1999/2000, on eight occasions.

Pipe is credited with introducing training innovations such as blood tests, meticulous record-keeping, which allowed him to chronicle his horses’ health and interval training, all of which are commonplace in the modern training regime. His approach allowed him to boost the fitness of his horses more than any other trainer and he achieved much of his success with cheaply-bought ‘castoffs’ from other stables, which he often improved out of all recognition.

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