The Grand National is greatest steeplechase horse race in the world and represents the ultimate test of horse and rider.
There’s been some tales of great horsemanship at Aintree down the years but here are five of the most amazing Grand National jockeys some of whom you have probably never heard of.
Grand National Top Betting Offers
1: Alfonso de Portago
Did you know Aintree Racecourse once featured a motor racing circuit? It did, located within the racecourse it used the same grandstands as those used by Grand National spectators. The venue played host to Formula 1’s British Grand Prix five times between 1955 and 1962.
And remarkably there was one character who rode in the famous steeplechase (twice) and also raced in the British Grand Prix. His name was Alfonso de Portago, and by every account this aristocrat was the most flamboyant womanising playboys the world had ever known.
Apart from racing for Ferrari – finishing second in the British Grand Prix – and riding horses he also finished fourth in the Winter Olympics in the Bobsleigh event and once flew a plane under London’s Tower Bridge for a bet.
Sadly his daredevil lifestyle eventually got the better of him and he was killed while racing in an Italian road race aged just 28.
2: Bob Champion
You could not have scripted the 1981 Grand National. A horse lame so often the vets recommended putting him down and a jockey who, two years beforehand, was given just eight months to live.
But on the day Bob Champion showed cancer could be overcome and Aldaniti showed no horse is beyond hope and together they produced the most heart-warming Grand National winners ever.
A year later a film, ‘Champions’, was made about their achievements while Bob Champion set up the Bob Champion Cancer Trust which continues to raise money for cancer research to this day.
3: Charlotte Brew
It’s amazing to think women were not allowed to ride in the Grand National until the mid-1970’s. But 1975’s Sex Discrimination Act meant authorities could no longer refuse women the opportunity to ride in the Grand National.
Charlotte Brew made history in 1977 when she became the first woman to ride in the Grand National, dong so on her horse Barony Fort. Only 11 horses completed the course in 1997 and while Brew’s mount, a 200/1 shot, refused four from home she did perform best of the 27 non-finishers that year.
4: Geraldine Rees
By 1982 there had been three more attempts to complete the National course by a woman jockey – all had failed.
But in the year Grittar justified favouritism Geraldine Rees managed to complete the course on 66/1 shot, Cheers.
Cheers finished eighth and was the last horse to complete the course but she fared better than 27 other runners including the defending champion, Aldaniti who fell at the first.
Rees tried again in the 1983 National but failed to finish the course as did eight other lady riders in proceeding years and it was not until 1994 that another lady rider could complete the course. That was Rosemary Henderson who deserves an honourable mention in this list for finishing fifth on Fiddlers Pike.
5: John Thorne
Bruce Hobbs was just 17-years-old when he won the 1938 Grand National aboard Battleship (in 1938) and Dick Saunders was the oldest winning National rider partnering Grittar to victory in 1982 aged 48.
However Spartan Missile, runner-up in the 1981 Grand National was partnered by an amazing man, 54-year-old amateur jockey John Thorne. Not only was Thorne advancing in years, he was actually a grandfather.
As for his mount, who started favourite for the race, Spartan Missile was bred, owned and trained by Thorne who had overcome a broken back and come out of retirement to ride in ‘the big one’.
Tragically, John Thorne was killed in a fall from a horse at Bicester point-to-point less than a year after riding Spartan Missile into second place in Aldaniti’s Grand National.