We’ve all been there. The Grand National, that most famous of races, is looming large and you’re stumped. Form, ground and all the other factors that usually point you in the direction of a potential winner go out the window, and after the bashing they took at Cheltenham Gold Cup Week recently, the bookies have their eyes on a much-needed damage limitation exercise. For those who make this their only bet of the year, there’s even more guesswork to be done, but the phrase ‘Housewives’ Favourite’ won’t take on a special significance on April 9 for nothing. The outcome at Aintree is sometimes – just sometimes – written in the stars, and romance and superstition can lead to riches as these runners and riders from the past 25 years have shown.
Many Clouds (2015)
Lightning rarely strikes twice in the world’s biggest steeplechase, but try telling that to Leighton Aspell who had been victorious aboard Pineau De Re only a year earlier. It looked for all the world that AP McCoy was getting a dream run on Shuthefrontdoor in what would be his final National, but Many Clouds eventually beat all to prove that 2014 had been no fluke for Aspell, who became the first jockey since Brian Fletcher (who steered Red Rum to successive wins in ’73 and ’74) to record this very special double.
Don’t Push It (2010)
We’ve only just given him a mention, but six years ago one of the bookies’ biggest nightmares came true. If you’re equine knowledge is pretty limited, what do you do? Back the greatest jump jockey there’s ever been at 10/1 of course! After 14 attempts, it looked as if McCoy would never land the big one like so many wonderful riders before him, but in finishing five lengths ahead of second placed Black Apalachi, he finally repaid the punters’ faith, and how.
In the early 1990s Freddie Starr was still one of the biggest names in British comedy, a fact not lost on the many who, without having a lot else to go on, put a few quid on the Scouse funnyman’s very own Irish gelding. Richard Dunwoody managed to ride it first past the post for his second and final Aintree victory, so cue tabloid headlines the next day such as “Freddie’s Star”. Still, it’s a step up from “Freddie Ate My Hamster”.
Party Politics (1992)
We’re down to the stuff of folklore with this one. Even the shrewdest of bookmakers and pundits alike must have suspected something was in the air, for this was General Election year, the first one since Margaret Thatcher had packed her bags and left Number 10 in 1990. A mere five days before Britain went to the polls, Party Politics, with Carl Llewellyn on board, proved the superstitious to be bang on the money – quite literally – and a great many of them were, too.
As for 2016, it would be a brave man to write off Leighton Aspell’s chances of an unprecented hat-trick as he puts his faith in Many Clouds for a second successive year. Cheltenham veteran Silviniaco Conti could have the game to put a stop to that, whilst the brilliant Ruby Walsh will have his pick of the Willie Mullins stable. If all of that means absolutely nothing to you, you know what to do…