The Most Heartwarming Grand National Moments

The beauty and exhilaration of watching the Grand National, or any big sporting event, does not just come from viewing the feats of athleticism, power and skill, but from the universal human narratives that entwine them. The Grand National may make millions of pounds from bettors and generate thousands of webpages of statistics, but what fans remember is not the cash earned or the technical commentary, but the moment where somebody’s dreams were realised.

The Grand National has been filled with such heart-warming moments and here are just three of the most memorable.

Red Rum’s Historic Hat-Trick
[image type=”rounded” float=”left” src=”” href=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]If there is one thing the public loves more than a champion it is a fading one. The narrative of a declining legend, facing tumbling results and diminishing returns, regrouping for one last moment of glory is a sport’s classic and is guaranteed to pack a strong emotional punch with audiences. It was a narrative that legendary steeplechaser Red Rum played to perfection in 1977.

Having captured consecutive Aintree Grand National wins in 1973 and 1974, many felt that Red Rum had reached the zenith of his career. In 1975, Red Rum’s ‘inevitable’ decline began and by 1976 his glory days were seen as well behind him. In this year, Red Rum won only two of the 18 chases he competed in. That is a respectable showing for most, but not for the formally unbeatable Red Rum.

The year of 1977 began even more listlessly for Red Rum, with dismal form seeing him stagger through his first five races. A waterlogged training ground only added to the woes of Red Rum’s team. However, at a Grand National prep-race in Haydock, the then 12-year-old Red Rum suddenly kicked back into gear and took a late lead to win.

Coming into the Grand National, which he had been runner-up in 1975 and 1976, Red Rum was cautiously seen as a potential winner. However, it was not until a crucial last-minute mistake by challenger Churchtown Boy that Red Rum’s victory became assured! The deafening cheering during his 25 lengths run-in is still one of the most iconic moments in the Grand National’s history.

The Duke of Alburquerque Finishes
[image type=”rounded” float=”left” src=”” href=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]From unquestionably the best Grand National horse of all time to undoubtedly its worse jockey for, most likely, the rest of eternity.

The Duke of Albuquerque, or the Iron Duke as he would eventually be known, was a regular fixture at the Grand National between 1962 and 1976, and would have gone on for longer if officials had not revoked his permit for his own safety. A Grand National obsessive since watching a broadcast of the event at age eight, the Iron Duke never let a complete lack of talent or skill prohibit him from achieving his dream of running repeatedly in the Grand National.

Falling from his horse on his first attempt in 1952, and waking up in hospital with a cracked vertebra hours later, the Iron Duke would become known for his inability to complete the race itself and ability to injure himself in a different way each time. In 1963, he fell from his horse and dislocated a shoulder and in 1965 his leg was crushed by his horse, who collapsed underneath him. His frequent falling and injuries meant that one year bookies gave him a 66-1 to finish the race.

Never one to do things by halves, in 1974, the Duke had 16 screws removed from his leg that were there to repair another injury before promptly snapping his collarbone whilst training for another Grand National attempt. However, despite being in a neck brace, the Duke managed to finish the race for the only time in his career and, at the same time, coined perhaps one of the famous witty retort in Grand National History.

When jockey Ron Barry was accidentally barged by the Duke, he yelled ‘What the hell are you doing?’. The eccentric aristocrat replied ‘My dear chap, I haven’t a clue….I’ve never got this far before!’

Bob Champion’s Win Against Adversity
[image type=”rounded” float=”left” src=”” href=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]In 1979, jockey Bob Champion was told that he had cancer. Moreover, unless he took a combination of aggressive and experimental drugs, he would be dead in eight months and, even with treatment, he only had a 35-40% chance of surviving. Additionally, his horse, Aldaniti, was so badly injured soon after that one vet had prescribed a bullet to the head as the only viable option.

Consequently, the duo’s appearance alone at Aintree racetrack in 1981 was an achievement all by itself. In a nail-biting climax, the partnership managed to cling to the lead – against Spartan Missile – to clinch the most nostalgic Grand National win so far.

Champion, now in remission, is still going strong and saw his story made into a film starring John Hurt in 1983. Meanwhile, Aldaniti was retired soon after his victory and died peacefully at the grand, old age of 27.