The Irish and the Grand National go hand in hand, but why do they have such an affiliation with the Aintree steeplechase?
Grand National History
The Irish have always been associated with the Grand National. The style of race dates all the way back to 1752 when two Irish fox-hunting gentlemen, Edmund Bake and Cornelius O’Callaghan, coined the word ‘steeplechase’. It was originally designated a horse race across a stretch of open countryside, with a church steeple in view as the goal.
It only seems appropriate, given the origins of the race, that the Irish have the greatest overseas impact at the Aintree Grand National. The race is even run over roughly the same distance as the original country chase from St John’s Church Buttevant to St Marys Church at Doneraile, County Cork.
Its origins at Aintree are attributed to William Lynn, the proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel who leased the land in Aintree from William Molyneux. Lynn set out a course, built a grandstand, and Lord Sefton laid the foundation stone on 7 February 1829.
Irish jockeys and Irish-bred horses have always enjoyed considerable success at Aintree. There have been 28 winners of the race trained in Ireland since the first Grand National back in 1839.
The first was Coolreagh-bred Matthew who won the race in 1847, the 10-1 joint-favorite. The next was Abd-El-Kader who became the first dual winner of the Grand National in 1850 and 1851.
A long wait, and 24 years later, The Liberator triumphed, having finished third behind Austerlitz two years earlier.
L’Escargot became the second-ever horse to win both the National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, he unfortunately didn’t do it in the same season like Golden Miller had.
He finished third, second and finally first in the Grand Nationals of 1973, 1974 and 1975 respectively. Trained by Dan Moore of the Fairyhouse yard, he beat Red Rum who had won the previous two seasons and went on to win again in 1977.
Recent Irish Grand National Winners
Jockey of L’Escargot, Tommy Carberry, trained 1999 Irish and English National winner Bobbyjo, who was ridden by his son Paul Carberry. The father-son combo quickly caught on and in 2000 Papillon won. He was trained by Ted Walsh with son Ruby riding in his first National.
2003 saw Monty’s Pass reign victorious by 12 lengths, while Ruby Walsh secured his second National victory on Hedgehunter in 2005.
Hedgehunter was then runner up in 2006 behind Irish-trained Numbersixvalverde, Martin Brassil’s first runner in the National.
The Irish were successful again in 2007 with Silver Birch who beat McKelvey by three-quarters of a length. Trained by Gordon Elliott, Silver Birch was his first ever entry into the Grand National.
Don’t Push It landed trainer Jonjo O’Neil, owner J.P.McManus and jockey A.P. McCoy, their first win in 2010. At 10/1, Don’t Push It went off as the joint-favourite, beating Black Apalachi by five lengths.
Rule The World came in at 33/1 for trainer Mouse Morris and owner Michael O’Leary in 2016. This would turn out to be the first of three Grand National winners for The Giggingstown House Stud. They beat the favourite The Last Samurai by six lengths, and this would turn out to be his penultimate race.
The Famous Tiger Roll
When you think of the Grand National, you can’t help but think of Tiger Roll. He will go down as one of the all-time greats, being only the second horse ever to win it back to back. Tiger Roll is also the first Irish horse to achieve that feat.
His first win came in 2018. Tiger Roll was priced at 10/1 and beat Pleasant Company by a head. This was trainer Gordon Elliotts second Grand National winner. The 2019 win looked like it was in doubt as Tiger Roll and Magic Of Light approached the last. However, the horse ridden by Davy Russell jumped well and took a solid lead to win the race for a second time.
Unfortunately, this year’s Grand National was cancelled and as a result, Tiger Roll wasn’t able to make history and win three in a row. However, he could very well be back for the 2021 Grand National and if he wins wouldn’t that still be technically three in a row??