There is a legend concerning the 1904 Grand National winner, Moifaa. The story is that the horse was shipped over from New Zealand where he had won nine races from thirteen attempts and was among the favourites in the Aintree Grand National betting. As the ship carrying him was sailing up the Irish Sea on its way to Liverpool a ferocious storm blew up. The crew decided to abandon ship and let the horse onto the deck to look after itself – it couldn’t get into the lifeboat. The story varies at this point but the general tale is that the horse swam twenty five miles to an uninhabited island somewhere off the Irish coast. It was rescued by a fisherman and returned to its owner, the rower and golfer Spencer Gollan. Moifaa became an Aintree legend!

What actually happened was that at the same time that Moifaa left New Zealand another ship, the Thermopylae left Melbourne carrying two racehorses, Chesney and Kiora. The ship had to sail around the tip of South Africa but struck a reef off Cape Town and the crew abandoned her. A policeman swam to the vessel and released Chesney. There was no sign of Kiora but he was later found on a reef off Mouille Point, an upper class area of Cape Town. He had probably swum two miles – no mean achievement. Of course, anyone looking to bet on the Grand National 2011 won’t have to worry about their horse having to undertake such an arduous preparation.

The two horses did eventually run in the 1904 National, Moifaa winning, ridden by Arthur Birch. Kiora was unplaced. Moifaa was bought after the race by Spencer Gollan’s friend King Edward VII. He ran in the 1905 National but fell at Bechers; subsequently developing a breathing problem he was given away by the King and used for hunting in Leicestershire. He led the cortege at the King’s funeral in 1910, carrying an empty saddle.

Arthur Birch was badly injured in a fall at the now defunct Gatwick racecourse two years later and confined to a wheelchair. He died in 1911, probably as a result of his injuries. Spencer Gollan lived until 1934 when he was knocked down in an accident in London.