Was Outsider Caughoo’s Grand National win legitimate?

Nowadays, the Grand National at Aintree attracts an estimated television audience of 500 million, worldwide, so the idea of anyone ‘cheating’ in plain view of dozens of television cameras is, frankly, ludicrous. However, in the days before regular television coverage of the National, which began in 1960, that was the accusation levelled against the 1947 winner Caughoo or, more particularly, his jockey Edward ‘Eddie’ Dempsey.

The 1947 Grand National has the distinction of being the first to be run on a Saturday, but heavy rain, followed by thick fog, rendered Aintree almost unraceable and limited visibility from the grandstands to the final two obstacles. Nevertheless, the second largest field in Grand National history, 57, set off and, ten minutes later, Caughoo, an unconsidered 100/1 outsider, emerged from the gloom twenty lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer.

Daniel McCann, jockey of the second horse home, Lough Conn, later accused Dempsey of having concealed Caughoo in the fog, near the twelfth fence, after which the runners cross the Melling Road, near the Anchor Bridge, and only rejoining the race as the remainder of the field re-entered the ‘racecourse proper’ on the second circuit. Dempsey flatly denied any such notion and successfully defended legal action by McCann, by his victory was dogged by suspicion for decades afterwards.

Long after his retirement from the saddle in 1950, Dempsey ‘confessed’ to a tabloid newspaper that he had, in fact, hidden Caughoo behind a haystack and rejoined the field on the second circuit, as McCann had alleged. However, in the absence of any haystacks at Aintree that day, it is easy to dismiss his later account as whimsical. Furthermore, in 1999, the ‘Irish Mirror’ claimed to have photographs in its possession that clearly showed Becher’s Brook – which is the sixth and twenty-second fence on the National Course – on two separate occasions, thereby disproving any allegations of skulduggery.