Who is, or was, the most successful trainer in the history of the Grand National?

In the history of the Grand National, the original ‘Master of Ballydoyle’, Vincent O’Brien, had the distinction of saddling three winners in a row, namely Early Mist, Royal Mist and Quare Times, in 1953, 1954 and 1955, respectively. However, three men have saddled four Grand National winners apiece and are, jointly, the most successful trainers in the history of the Grand National.

In the pioneering days of the Grand National, Epsom-based trainer George Dockeray was the first to achieve the feat when, in 1852, the unfancied 50/1 chance Miss Mowbray, ridden by Mr. Alec Goodman, beat Maurice Daley and Sir Peter Laurie by a length and half a length in the fourteenth renewal of the famous steeplechase. Dockeray had previously trained the winner of three of the first four ‘official runnings of the Grand National, namely Lottery (1839), Jerry (1840) and Gaylad (1842).

Over a century later, Fred Rimmell, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Grand National’, became the second trainer in history to saddle four Grand National winners when Rag Trade beat Red Rum by two lengths in the 1976 renewal. Rimmell, of course, was the trainer who had benefited from the dramatic collapse of Devon Loch in 1956, but aside from E.S.B., whose jockey Dave Dick admitted ‘was a terribly lucky winner’, also saddled Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Gay Trip (1970).

Last, but by no means least, Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain, trainer of Red Rum, who achieved legendary status by winning the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977, finally achieved his fourth win, at the age of 73, in 2004. On that occasion, the twelve-year-old Amberleigh House, ridden by Graham Lee, defeated co-favourite Clan Royal by three lengths.

Which horse has carried the most weight to victory in the Grand National?

In recent years, the maximum weight that any horse can carry in the Grand National is 11st

10lb. Indeed, since the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) lowered the maximum weight carried from 11st 12lb to 11st 10lb in 2009, the highest weight carried to victory in the Grand National is 11st 9lb, by Many Clouds in 2015. However, looking further back in the history of the Grand National, certain horses have been encumbered with eye-watering amounts of weight.

The first ‘official’ running of the Grand National, as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, took place in 1839 and was won by Lottery, trained by George Dockeray, carrying 12st 0lb. However, when Lottery returned to Aintree for the 1841 Grand National such was his perceived superiority over the opposition that the racecourse authority decreed that he must carry a penalty, of 18lb, which increased his weight to a staggering 13st 4lb. Remarkably, Lottery still started favourite, at 5/2, but was pulled up at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. An even more astonishing weight-carrying performance was recorded in 1900, when Manifesto – who had already won his second Grand National, under 12st 7lb the previous year – humped 12st 13lb into third place. Manifesto aside, three other horses, namely Cloister (1893), Jerry M (1912) and Poethyln (1919) carried 12st 7lb to victory in the Grand National.

Does Cloth Cap represent Trevor Hemmings best chance of winning another Grand National?

In November, 2020, Trevor Hemmings identified Cloth Cap as one of the two horses most likely to provide him with a record-breaking fourth Grand National winners. For the record, the other one was Deise Aba, a seven-year-old trained by Philip Hobbs, who has failed to complete the course on both attempts, so far, in the 2020/21 National Hunt season.

Cloth Cap, on the other hand, made a respectable seasonal debut when third, albeit no match for the first two, in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in October en route to the Ladbrokes Trophy, formerly the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, at Newbury the following month. Carrying minimum weight of 10 stone and sporting first-time cheekpieces, the eight-year-old jumped well at the head of affairs and kept on strongly in the closing stages to win, comfortably, by 10 lengths.

Cloth Cap has yet to win over further, but did finish third, beaten just 4 lengths, on his one and only attempt over a marathon trip, in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April, 2019, which augurs well for his stamina over 4 miles 2½ furlongs at Aintree. He has won four of his 16 steeplechases, all on good or good to soft going and, although he did fall once over hurdles at Ayr, he has jumped around Ascot, Cheltenham (twice) and Newbury without incident. Cloth Cap has no experience over the idosyncratic National fences, but is currently available at 25/1 ante post, which could look generous by the time April, 2021 rolls around.

Does The Conditional have sufficient stamina for the Grand National?

Update: The Conditional tragically died a week prior to this post doing up, due to a fatal injury at Newbury. The question had already been submitted, answered and queued for posting  prior to that time and so appeared after his sad event. I’ll leave this update here as explanation as to the circumstances surrounding why the question was posted when it was.

 

 

Having made a creditable reappearance when third in the Ladbrokes Trophy, over 3 miles 2 furlongs, at Newbury in late November, The Conditional is currently 25/1 co-second favourite for the 2021 Grand National ante post. However, the nine-year-old gelding has raced over a ‘marathon’ trip just once, when a beaten favourite in the Classic Chase, over 3 miles 5 furlongs, at Warwick in January, 2020 and, according to trainer David Bridgwater, will not do so again before the National.

Bridgwater has reportedly had the Grand National in mind for The Conditional since buying him from Co. Tipperary trainer Martin Hassett in September, 2019. However, while the son of leading National Hunt sire Kalanisi is still only an eight-year-old, he weakened quickly in the closing stages at Warwick, which must raise stamina doubts for an additional 5½ furlongs at Aintree. Indeed, following his narrow win in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, 2020, Bridgwater admitted that, beforehand, he still harboured doubts about The Conditional staying 3 miles 1 furlong, never mind further.

Once upon a time, there may have been some truth in the old adage that suggested a classy 2½- mile steeplechaser was the ideal type for the Grand National, but since 1990 all bar two winners had previously won a steeplechase over at least three miles. The Conditional qualifies on that score but, even so, backing him to win the National requires a ‘leap of faith’ (no pun intended) on the part of punters; of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t win.

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