With a catalogue of unhappy events taking place in history today – including the bomb explosion under the World Trade Center in 1993 and the hijacked Air Tanzania airliner in 1982 – I searched high and low to find something positive to share with you…. and settled on ‘Lottery’, the winner of the first run Grand National which took place on this day in 1839 at Aintree Racecourse on the outskirts of Liverpool, pictured below right with jockey, Jem Mason. Another jockey, Captain Becher (1797-1864), was thrown from his mount at the jump which became known as Becher’s Brook.
Becher was already considering retirement from race riding at the age of forty, before lining up for this event on Conrad. They set off at the head of the field. At the first major obstacle on the course – the first of two brooks – Conrad dug his heels in, hurling the Captain over his head and into the brook beyond. Becher lay in the water until his rivals had all thundered over the brook, before climbing out thoroughly soaked and cursing how he “hadn’t realised how filthy water tasted without the benefits of whisky”. He remounted and set off in pursuit, only to be parted from his mount again at the second brook. Becher did not take part in the event again, but his name was given to the first brook (the sixth and twenty-second fence in the modern National) and has ensured his eternal fame.
The most famous steeplechase race is now more usually run in early April and is no stranger to controversy, though some of the thirty obstacles have been modified over the 4.5 mile course in order to reduce the likelihood of injury to the horses and jockeys.
Red Rum is one of the most famous horses in the history of the race, returning home first for the third time – a record – in 1977, having previously won in 1973 and 1974. A statue was erected in front of the grandstand when he died in 1995, after his burial near the winning post of the course.