Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Amateur Riders in the Grand National


The Grand National was first run, as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, in 1839 and before World War I was regularly won by amateur riders. However, throughout the twentieth century amateur participation in the Grand National gradually tailed off and the last amateur to win the world famous steeplechase was Marcus Armytage, on Mr. Frisk, in 1990.

In fact, the current race conditions stipulate that, to be eligible to ride in the Grand National, amateur riders must have ridden at least 15 winners, at least 10 of them in steeplechases. Of course, amateur riders do still ride in the Grand National but, in the last decade or so, it’s been left to three modern Corinthians, one male and two female, to fly the flag for ‘gentleman’ or, indeed, ‘lady’, riders at Aintree. As such it's unlikely that you'll see amateur rider success in your Grand National 2020 best bets. Though in future years who knows.

Sam Waley-Cohen first hit the headlines when riding Liberthine, owned by his father, Robert, into fifth place behind Silver Birch on his first ride in the Grand National in 2007. On his next attempt, in 2009, his mount Ollie Magern fell at the second fence, but Waley-Cohen was back again in 2011, riding another horse owned by his father, Oscar Time, into second place, beaten just 2½ lengths, behind Ballabriggs. Oscar Time would prove a good servant for the family, finishing fourth behind Auroras Encore in 2013 and fifteenth, as a 14-year-old, behind Many Clouds two years later. In between times, Waley-Cohen rode erstwhile Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run, who was in second place when falling at Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit. He has since failed to complete the course.

Another Amateur rider, Katie Walsh didn’t make her debut in the Grand National until 2012, but then made an immediate impact, partnering 8/1 joint-favourite Seabass, trained by her father Ted, into third place, beaten a nose and 5 lengths, behind Neptune Collonges and Sunnyhillboy.

Despite having what Walsh Snr. described as ‘glassy’ legs, he returned to Aintree the following year and was sent off outright favourite for the National, only to bitterly disappoint and trail in a well-beaten thirteenth of seventeen finishers. Katie Walsh never improved on her debut effort, but did complete the course on three of her four subsequent attempts in the National and has still achieved the highest placing of any female rider in the history of the race. She has paved the way for others to pick up from where she left off.

Nina Carberry, like Katie Walsh, rode in the Grand National six times, making her debut on Forest Gunner, who finished ninth, and last, in 2006. However, despite completing the course on three of her subsequent five attempts, her best-placed finish was seventh on Character Building in 2010, although the 10-year-old was never a factor, and ultimately beaten 37 lengths in the famous renewal won by Sir Anthony McCoy on Don’t Push It.


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