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!