What happened to Devon Loch in the Grand National?

On Saturday 4th April 2020, the national hunt spectacle that is the Aintree Grand National will once again be taking place. Televised on ITV at 5:15pm, with coverage beginning at 2pm, the nation will surely collectively be on the edge of their seat to watch this, the pinnacle of UK racing. A who’s who of racing excellence will be on display with the countries best jockeys, trainers, owners and of course horses all having one aim in mind, to cross the line in first place and become part of the history of this great race. Before long we’ll all be selecting our Grand National 2020 tips, via our own individual approaches, be that anywhere from tipsters to tea leaves!

The Grand National is a race that’s held such longevity that it’s given us everything over the years. Breathtaking back-to-back wins (Red Rum, Tiger Roll), ambitious outsiders, battling displays. The Grand National of course has also seen it’s fair share of examples of, if you will, defeat stolen from the jaws of victory. Jockey’s taking their foot off the gas too early, leading horses falling when they had the win in the bag, the list goes on. Perhaps the biggest, and some would say strangest (or most mysterious!) upset was the defeat in the Grand National of the Queen Mother owned Devon Loch.

In 1956, Devon Loch suffered what was later described as ‘the most tragic defeat in Grand National history’, but exactly what happened to him remains a mystery that endures to this day. What definitely did happen was that, 40 yards from the finish line, with the race at his mercy, Devon Loch suddenly and inexplicably fly jumped – that is, raised his forelegs as if to jump – before slithering to the ground in an unceremonious belly-flop, right in front of his owner, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who was watching from the Royal Box. Jockey Dick Francis attempted to recover, but all chance had gone and ESB, ridden by Dave Dick, galloped by to win by 10 lengths.

Various theories have been put forward as to the cause of the demise of Devon Loch. One of the most popular is that, in the same way that horses occasionally fly jump at road crossings on National Hunt racecourses, Devon Loch caught sight of the water jump, or at least its shadow, on his inside, and instinctively tried to jump it. Francis, though, believes that Devon Loch was overwhelmed by the noise of the crowd – newsreel footage of the incident does, indeed, show the horse pricking his ears immediately beforehand – and, consequently, his hind-quarters refused to act.

It’s certainly an odd affair and one that stands out, even among all of the Grand Nationals that have come and gone over the decades. This unusual piece of sporting history has been viewed close to a million times on YouTube, which ironically make Devon Loch more of a household name than many of the actual Grand National winners from that era. A strange and unlikely chapter in the history of the event. I wonder if the 2020 race will bring any unexpected outcomes? We’ll soon find out!

Is Aidan O’Brien related to Vincent O’Brien?

The simple answer is no, Aidan O’Brien is not related to the late Michael Vincent O’Brien, but the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has much in common with his predecessor. Indeed, it was Vincent O’Brien who bought Ballydoyle House, in Co. Tipperary in 1951 and, later, along with his son-in-law, John Magnier, and the late Robert Sangster, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, for whom Aidan O’Brien has been private trainer since 1996.

Both Aidan and Vincent O’Brien began their training careers in National Hunt racing; both have the distinction of having won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running, Aidan with Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and Vincent with Hatton’s Grace in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Similarly, both men subsequently rose to become the dominant force in Flat racing, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of Europe and both became Champion Trainer in Britain, despite training on the other side of the Irish Sea.

What is a novice?

In horse racing, ‘novice’ is often used in the same sense that it is used elsewhere – that is, to describe a horse that is new to racing, or inexperienced in its selected discipline – but, officially, ‘novice’ has a highly-specific meaning.

Under the Rules of Racing, on the Flat, a novice is any horse that is eligible to run in a novice, novice auction or median auction novice race. What that means, essentially, it that is has won no more than twice and has run no more than twice, unless it has yet to win or is a two-year-old, although it must also satisfy certain other eligibility criteria.

In National Hunt racing, a novice is defined as a horse that has yet to win, in its selected discipline – that is, over hurdles or fences – before the start of the current season. The only caveat is that horses that win one or more races in their selected discipline in the last two months of the National Hunt season ‘proper’ are still regarded as novices, and therefore eligible to run in novice hurdles or novice steeplechases, until the end of the following October.

Who is, or was, the most successful jockey ever?

In Britain, the most successful jockey ever was Sir Gordon Richards who, between 1921 and 1954, rode 4,870 winners. The late Pat Eddery, who rode 4,633 winners between 1969 and 2003, and the incomparable Lester Piggott, who rode 4,493 winners between 1948 and 1994, are second and third on the all-time list, while Sir Anthony McCoy – far and away the most successful jockey in the history of National Hunt racing – is not far behind, with 4,358 winners.

However, none of the British jockeys can hold a candle to Canadian-born jockey Russell A. Baze who, between 1974 and 2016, rode an astonishing 12,842 winners – from 53,578 rides, at a strike rate of 24% – in North America. Baze is, comfortably, the most successful jockey in the history of horse racing worldwide, even outscoring prolific winners Laffit A. Pincay Jr. and Bill “The Shoe” Shoemaker by several thousand.

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