National Hunt History’s Whackiest Moments

For many punters, the Grand National is literally serious business. Fortunes can be lost or made during the course of that one famous race, and even the smallest mishap can result in a totally unexpected outcomes.

Given that national hunt racing has been populated by some rather eccentric characters, the air of grim expectancy that shrouds race goers at the Grand National is destined to occasionally give way to astonishment at absurd events on the racetrack.

Here are some of the Grand National’s wackiest moments:

Easy Going: 1857

Scheduling a sport during the English winter can give rise to some interesting situations. Take the 1957 Grand National for instance. The race that year was run in such a heavy downpour that several riders became completely disoriented. One jockey, Charlie Boyce, was relieved to discover some good ground as he made his way along the racetrack in the torrential rain.

Unbeknownst to Boyce, he had actually wandered off the racetrack entirely, and onto the canal towpath that runs adjacent to the Grand National circuit. With Aintree’s notorious fences now out of the equation, Boyce surged into the lead and went on to win the race with ease – incredibly the race stewards let the victory stand.

Dutch Courage: 1875

One of national hunt racing’s most famous figures, Thomas Pickernell, once treated the crowds at Aintree to an interesting spectacle. The great jockey entered the 1875 Grand National on Pathfinder, but was so drunk that he lined up for the race facing in the wrong direction.

Once a fellow jockey had helped him find his bearings, Pickernell responded enthusiastically by putting in the race of a lifetime, propelling the unfancied Pathfinder to a sensational half-length Grand National victory.

An Obscure Achievement: 1947

The elements set the scene for events at the 1947 Grand National. Instead of torrential rain, competitors and spectators had to put up with a fog so thick that it was virtually impossible to see the horses running on the Aintree racetrack.

National hunt folklore tells us that a jockey by the name of Edward Dempsey decided to take advantage of the curtains of fog obscuring the racetrack. The crafty jockey reportedly slowed his horse down during the first circuit and then waited until he heard the pack catching up as they headed for the finishing post.

Dempsey then spurred his horse to a gallop, giving the appearance that he was, in fact, leading the pack. Dempsey’s Caughoo went on to win the Grand National having run only a single circuit of the racetrack.

Foinavon’s Fence: 1976

Without a doubt the wackiest moment in the history of the Grand National played out during the 1967 Grand National. Rank outsider Foinavon was lagging behind the pace by the time the pack of horses reached the 23rd fence of the Grand National circuit.

Without warning the two race frontrunners pulled up at Aintree’s smallest fence, causing a pileup and chaos as the majority of horses pulled up at the fence. Foinavon was so far behind the pack that rider Johnny Buckingham was able to pick his way through the melee and put Foinavon in front.

Foinavon’s owner hadn’t bothered to attend the event due to his charge’s dismal prospects, and consequently missed out as Foinavon claimed a totally unexpected five length victory over pre-race favourite Honey End.

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