Grand National Ultimate History





The course was at the location where it remains to the present day. There were many more ploughed fields than grass fields and it was not railed. The start was at approximately the same place that it would occupy from 1863-2012. The obstacles were mainly 2ft high earth banks with small ditches in front of them, some with posts and rails. In addition, there were two lane jumps, each with some kind of fence, hedge or rail to negotiate both in and out of the lane. The first lane was rather sunken and would eventually be named the Melling Road. The second lane (which was on ground higher than the fields before and after it) was originally Bridge Lane and later would also be called Melling Road, however, I will always refer to it as the Anchor Bridge Crossing (ABC). At the ABC the obstacles in and out were combined under the moniker of Table Top Jump. Two obstacles featured natural brooks (later named Becher's and Valentine's) on the landing side, there was a jump at the Canal Turn (CT), an artificial Water Jump (WJ) in front of the stands and two hurdles to finish on a wider, outer line taken only on the second circuit.


(Liverpool Grand) Mo 29 Feb 1836 (2.00) 4m 4 1/2f Heavy 15.12.00 10 £170 Sirdefield

  1 The Duke 7 12-00   Cpt M. Becher 3/1   Away well and prominent 1C (all 10 remained WJ). Took narrow lead very early 2C. Challenged throughout but never quite headed. Left with only the eventual runner-up to beat ABC and entered into an extended duel. Mistake last but just prevailed despite saddle slipping.
  2 Polyanthus 5 12-04   D. Christian 5/1 1 Lost ground 1st but gradually recovered 1C. Continued progress 2C and left 2nd ABC. Entered into an extended duel with eventual winner. Mistake last. Just lost out on run in.
  3 Cockahoop 6 12-00   B. Bretherton 9/1   Away well and prominent, 3rd very early 2C. Faded from CT.
  4 Percy   12-00   W. Tempest 6/1   Led until headed very early 2C. Faded from CT.
  F Laurie Todd   12-00   H. Powell 2/1F ABC 2C Held up 1C and still last but one of the 8 remaining very early 2C. Good headway to dispute lead by 3rd fence 2C. 2nd, going well and every chance, when fell at gate deliberately locked shut ABC.
  P The Baronet   12-00 E. Kershaw E. Kershaw 6/1 B1 2C Chased leaders until became prominent 1C. 2nd very early 2C. Faded quite rapidly and tailed off when PU B1 2C.
  P Derry   12-00 J. Webster J. Devine 8/1 B1 2C Lost ground 1st. Never better than mid to rear and tailed off when PU B1 2C.
  P The Sweep   12-00   G. Patrick 10/1 B1 2C Never better than mid to rear and tailed off when PU B1 2C.
  P Gulliver   12-00   J. Denton 8/1 END 1C No impact. Tailed off and distressed when PU at end of 1C.
  P Cowslip   12-00   S. Martin 12/1 END 1C Lost ground 1st and always towards rear. Tailed off and distressed when PU at end of 1C.



Undoubtedly, this was the first running of the race that would soon become referred to as the Grand National. It took place over essentially the same area of land as it does today. Most leading National historians, including Mick Mutlow and John Pinfold, plus contemporary newspaper accounts concur. A selling clause in the race conditions was to ensure there wasn't a walkover by a single superior horse who might frighten off all opposition. The clause was designed to entice a competitive field and establish the prestige of the race rather than to attract animals of the poor quality associated with modern-day sellers. Because steeplechasing was regarded as illegitimate by the established racing authorities (a National Hunt Committee was not formed until 1866) official records and histories were not compiled until a generation after the events and were erroneous in excluding the races of 1836-1838. They should be fully restored to all archives.

The race was conceived by William Lynn, proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel, who headed a syndicate. He had set out a Flat course and built a grandstand on land leased from (the 2nd) Lord Sefton in 1829. Lynn was inspired by the success of the Great St. Albans Steeplechase, which had been inaugurated in 1830, and he planned a race that similarly started and finished at the same point. Most steeplechase meetings were fairly chaotic so Lynn appointed an umpire, Lord Molyneux, who chose the line of country for the race. The distance was not many yards from exactly 4m 4 1/2f (see 1887).

Steeplechasing had originated in Ireland, races literally from steeple to steeple, often matches. It began to be copied in Britain towards the end of the eighteenth century. The horses were hunters and raced at a hell for leather pace, often over extreme distances. Races were over natural country and obstacles which could be 100yds in length. Courses were flagged not railed. The number of recorded courses grew from one in 1829 to 39 in 1838. Whereas many races were disorganised and could only be followed mounted or seen from trees, coach tops or by sitting on the actual fences, Lynn's race could be seen in its entirety from the stands - on a clear day with a good telescope - if a spectator so chose.

In 1836 the race allured some of the country's leading jockeys, not least among them the ultimately triumphant Captain Martin Becher, known as a horseman with good hands. The railway system was not quite fully developed so the horses were drawn only from the north. Polyanthus's carrying of 4 pounds more than all the other runners is the first example of overweight and the extra burden may have cost the horse victory (though Polyanthus was also encumbered by losing more ground than most at the 1st, the second element of which (the jump out of the Sunken Lane) caused general consternation amongst the field). That said, had the favourite Laurie Todd, who was going well when falling, stood up perhaps neither Polyanthus nor The Duke would have won. There was a strong whiff of foul play concerning the departure of Laurie Todd. Lord Molyneux had allowed the gate in question to be nailed open thus providing the option not to take the Table Top Jump at the Anchor Bridge Crossing. Between the first and second circuits a person, found to be the brother of the owner of another horse (which one was not disclosed), shut and fastened the gate. When confronted by this not all of the remaining partnerships endeavoured to actually leap the gate and of those who tried only Laurie Todd fell. However, as his rider, Horatio Powell, was attempting a quick remount Bartholomew Bretherton, on Cockahoop, knocked Powell down, possibly deliberately although I'm inclined to believe by accident. Gulliver, presumably, did not travel well.

The first Grand National was well attended and generally applauded by the press for being highly organised. It received encouragement for its renewal.



> Some historians believe Laurie Todd was hampered and refused at ABC 2C with Powell being unshipped in the process, however, there is no evidence to suggest that the horse was interfered with by The Duke, the only runner ahead of him.








Copyright 2017 by Chris Dowling