Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Grand National: Getting round the track

Over the years we have seen some remarkably small numbers of finishers in the Grand National but with the recent course modifications, the class of horse that contests the race getting better and better and with the course unlikely to face the atrocious conditions that have been prevalent in past small field Nationals we should not be confronted with the same situation as happened in 1928 when Tipperary Tim, the first 100-1 winner of the race beat the remounted Billy Barton by a distance. Easter Hero getting stuck on top of the Canal Turn fence caused the majority of the problems and the atrocious conditions proved a contributory factor to see just those two finish from the 42 that set out.

Other years have had small numbers of finishers also in 1913 and 1951 we had just the three finishers, in 1951 nearly a third of the field came down at the first and the rest of the course took its predictable toll to see just a trio finish.

Although there were eventually 17 finishers one of the most famous National pile-ups occurred in the 1967 event when the riderless Popham Down stopped most of the field in their tracks at the 23rd fence and outsider and trailer Foinavon circumvented the entire mess and had gained an unassailable lead by the time the rest of the field got going again. The fence that caused all the trouble is now named after the 1967 winner. Anyone looking at the best online Grand National odds will know it continues to cause problems to this very day.

The majority of the small field finishes since have been down to heavy ground Ben Nevis led home just four finishers in 1980 while 2001 became a race that you couldn't take your eyes off as plenty of the field were taken out by Paddy's Return at the first Bechers and heavy conditions managed to put pay to the rest of the field apart from Red Marauder and Smarty who were the only two horses to negotiate the 30 fences at the first attempt, but both Blowing Wind and Papillion were remounted after coming to grief at the 19th – just the four eventually finishing.

To flip the coin over for the moment the highest number of finishers saw 23 complete in 1984 when Hallo Dandy led the field home, with 40 having set out. There were 22 finishers from 47 starters in 1963 and 22 from 40 in both 1987 and 1992, the going being good and good-to-soft on those occasions.

The last five Nationals have all seen double figure numbers completing from the maximum field allowed these days -40, and last year 19 came home when Ballabriggs led home those gallant finishers and Piraya brought up the rear.

Without heavy ground and the recent modifications it looks likely that we'll see a similar number of finishers in the 2012 Grand National.

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