Captain Becher: Grand National Legend

‘Captain Becher commenced his career on a pony, and was remarkable as well, for the boldness of his riding as for the judgement he displayed in the hunting field.’ Norfolk Mercury, 19th Oct 1864 [obituary of Captain Martin Becher]

Captain Becher cuts an almost mythical figure in the history of the Grand National. Although never officially recognised as the first Grand National winning jockey, Captain Becher contributed more to the race than any other jockey in its history.

A great deal of speculation surrounds the biographical details of Captain Becher. Legend has it that Captain Becher served beneath the Duke of Wellington in Waterloo, although he apparently never participated in the infamous battle of Waterloo. Even then he was renowned for his skill with horses which he had picked up from his father.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars Captain Becher was demobbed and found himself without a means of making an income. He soon found himself an undemanding job as the captain of the Buck Yeomanry and turned his attention to his passion – horseracing.

As fate would have it Captain Becher’s path soon intersected with that of William Lynn, the owner of Aintree racecourse. Both men were inspired by the success of the St Alban’s Steeplechase in London, and Captain Becher convinced Lynn to host a steeplechase at Aintree.

Once Captain Becher, Grand National legend, had ensured that a steeplechase would take place at Aintree, he made himself available as a jockey and was entered into the race as the rider of The Duke. Only ten horses competed in the race, and The Duke won the race over the sprawling Aintree farmland by a single length.

The win at Aintree was one of many during Captain Becher’s distinguished career. The Captain won several of the most prestigious steeplechases including the Northamptonshire Chase, the Grand Aylesbury Chase, the St Albans Steeplechase and the Cheltenham Steeplechase.

Captain Becher’s racing career ended at the first officially recognised Grand National at Aintree. At the 6th fence Becher’s mount, Conrad, made the decision not to jump and instead thundered into the gorse, sending Captain Becher over the fence and into the brook running across the landing.

Following this incident Captain Becher, Grand National legend, decided his racing days were over and never raced again. In later years he worked as a racecourse manager, and today the sixth fence at Aintree is named Becher’s Brook in his honour.