Karel Kinsky: Grand National Legend

The Grand National at Aintree is an event steeped in tradition and history, which makes it slightly less surprising to discover that the 1894 Grand National was once won by a prince from one of Europe’s royal families.

Karel Kinsky came from a noble family with a long history of horse breeding. The Kinsky’s bred horses for racing and for hunting as well as for the use of the Austrian cavalry. In 1776 Count Kinsky travelled from Bohemia to England to pick some thoroughbred horses which he hoped would strengthen the bloodlines of his own horses.

Prince Karel Kinsky, Grand National legend, was born in 1858, and from an early age participated in his family’s obsession with fine horses. By this stage the Kinsky’s had set up the European Grand National to grow the sport of hunt racing in their country.

Roland Reynolds, the master of horses, had a powerful influence on young Karel and soon infected the boy with his own love for Hunt Racing. In the late 1870’s a young Karel Kinsky had the opportunity to travel with the Austrian Royal Family to England, and there he witnessed his first Grand National.

While in England, a steeplechaser by the name of Zoedone came to the young Karel’s attention, having won the Warwick Grand Annual Steeplechase. Karel Kinsky purchased the horse in 1892 for the princely sum of £800 and together with his new prize went for steeplechase training with former steeplechase champion WH Jenkins.

In 1893 Zoedone and Kinsky entered a Grand National featuring the smallest field in history – 10 horses. Karel Kinsky had been advised to ride his horse as if in a hunt, and this advice worked. The weather on the day was terrible, making for a wet and heavy turf, and Zoedone achieved the second slowest winning time ever recorded at the Grand National.

Karel Kinsky, Grand National legend, and Zoedone were back at Aintree the following year, but in a bigger and more competitive field only managed a fourth placed finish. Zoedone was poisoned before the 1895 Grand National and put in a lethargic performance, leaving Kinsky unplaced. Zoedone was then shipped off to Austria to assist in the Kinsky breeding program.

Kinsky’s story has a tragic ending. He fought on the Russian front during the Great War and returned to Austria a broken man. It is now believed that the Grand National legend died of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was only 56.