Grand National Ultimate History



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At last the course was fully turfed and railed, and it was widened at the CT. Guard rails were added to the open ditches. A small fence was reintroduced at the WJ. There is an accurate description: 1st/16th - hurdle 3' 6" high (H); 2nd/17th (Fan) - rail close up to fence, fence 5' H; 3rd/18th (OD) - ditch 6' 8" wide (W), fence 4' 6" H; 4th/19th - rail 2' 6" H, gap 2' W, fence 5' H; 5th/20th - hurdle 3' 6" H; 6th/21st (BB) - rail 2' 6" H close up to fence, fence 4' 6" H, brook 9' 6" W & 6' deep (D); 7th/22nd - rail 2' 6" H, any gap not known, fence 5' 6" H; 8th/23rd (CT, OD) - ditch 6' W, fence 5' H; 9th/24th (VB) - rail 2' H, any gap not known, fence 5' H, brook 5' W; 10th/25th - hurdle 3' 6" H; 11th/26th (OD) - ditch 6' W, fence 4' 6" H; 12th/27th - rail 2' H close to fence, fence 5' H, ditch 6' W; 13th - hurdle 3' 6" H; 14th (Chair, OD) - ditch 6' W, fence 4' 6" H; 15th (WJ) - fence 2' H & 1' W, water 12' 3" W & 2' D, TW 13' 3"; ... 28th - hurdle 3' 6" H; 29th - hurdle 3' 6" H; 30th - hurdle 3' 6" H.       


Fr 27 Mar 1885 (3.19) 4m 4 1/2f Good 10.10.00 19 £1,035 A. Cooper

84 1 Roquefort 6 11-00 A. Yates T. Wilson 100/30F   Away well & prominent, 2nd at 3rd and 5th VB 1C. Mistake CS and had dropped to 8th ABC 1C. Rallied to be very prominent Chair, 4th (of 18) WJ. 6th early 2C, remained handy and 3rd at 27th (last CS) & ABC. Took lead circa third last and held off challengers comfortably, finishing strongly.
84 2 Frigate 7 11-10 M. Maher H. Beasley 7/1 2 Away well but held up. Mid-division 1st and towards rear 3rd & BB 1C. Rather rapid headway to take closer order in 6th CT 1C, 7th ABC. Became very prominent by Chair, 3rd WJ. Midfield again early 2C but steady progress to be 7th once more VB and left 5th at 27th. A very close 4th entering straight, took 2nd at third last. Mistake second last. Kept on but not pace of winner.
82 83 84 3 Black Prince 13 10-05 J. Jewitt T. Skelton 33/1 4 Away well. 3rd at 1st and took lead before 3rd. Headed soon after BB 1C, 3rd again CT & VB 1C. 4th ABC but lost out in rush for WJ where a fore of mid-division 9th. 4th once more early 2C, same position VB and left 4th again at 27th. A very close 5th entering straight. Took 3rd between last 2. Kept on rather one-paced.  
  4 Redpath 8 10-03 T. Cannon A. Coventry 20/1 2 Mid-division 1C, 10th ABC. Gradual headway 2C to be 2nd at 27th & ABC. A close 3rd at second last but under pressure and dropped to 4th between last 2. Plugged on dourly.
  5 Axminster 8 10-07   W. Sayers 25/1 DIST Away well. 2nd at 1st, 4th at 3rd and still prominent BB 1C. Merely chased leaders in 7th CT & VB 1C, lost place CS and had dropped to rear of mid-division by WJ. Never a threat 2C. Beaten when left 8th at 27th. Laboured on past weakening horses to finish a bad 5th.
84 6 Albert Cecil 7 10-09 A. Yates J. Childs 20/1   Slowly away. Gradual progress from rear of mid-division to become fairly prominent BB 1C, 6th VB. Further progress to become very prominent CS 1C but lost position between ABC and WJ where a midfield 10th. Back up to 5th early 2C and 3rd VB. Began to fade mid CS. Left 6th at 27th. Continued to weaken.
  7 Dog Fox(2) 6 10-03 Cpt J. Lee-Barber Cpt S. Lee-Barber 25/1   4th at 1st. Chased leaders from 3rd, 7th WJ. 5th VB 2C. Took lead mid CS and still narrowly ahead entering straight. Came under pressure and headed circa third last whence commenced to weaken very badly indeed.
  8 Red Hussar 7 10-07 J. Jones Cpt H. Armitage 50/1   Away well & led 1st. Headed before 3rd but regained lead soon after BB 1C. Joined by CT and headed again by VB 1C. Led outright once more from mid CS 1C until made very bad mistake CT 2C, losing much ground. Laboured home.
  9 Lioness 7 11-07 A. Sadler G. Lambton NQ   Initially mid-division. Towards rear by ABC 1C. Rear of midfield WJ. Lumbered on 2C with no impact.
83 10 Jolly Sir John 8 10-12 T. Cannon William Nightingall 50/1   Mid-division 1st. Chased leaders 3rd & BB 1C, 5th CT. Had dropped back to 9th by ABC 1C but 5th again WJ. 6th VB 2C. Began to fade CS and beaten when left 7th at 27th. Continued to weaken.
80 83 11 Downpatrick 11 10-00 P. Gavin Cpt W. Morris 20/1   Mid-division 1st, fore of same 3rd, chased leaders BB 1C and continued headway to dispute lead by CT 1C. Led outright next (VB). Headed mid CS but remained very prominent ABC. Merely pursued leaders again WJ, however, where 6th. Gradually faded further 2C becoming tailed off by ABC and ultimately being eased to a walk. Finished lame.
  F Gamecock 6 10-00 J. Gordon B. Stephens 50/1 27TH Mid-division 1st. 4th CT & VB 1C, 5th ABC. Declined customary mad dash for WJ where chased leaders in 8th. However, took 2nd early 2C and gifted lead CT. Headed mid CS and 4th again when fell 27th.
  B Lang Syne 7 10-08 J. Lowe T. Hale NQ 27TH 5th at 1st, 6th ABC 1C. Headway to be 2nd WJ. 3rd early 2C, 2nd again VB and remained very prominent until began to fade mid CS. 5th when BD by Gamecock 27th.
  U Ben More 5 10-07 W. Behan W. Moore 100/8 24TH (VB) Fore of mid-division. Became prominent by 3rd and still so BB 1C. Gradually lost place and a midfield 10th WJ. Got increasingly weary 2C. Very tired when took off too soon, very bad mistake & UR VB.
82 83 84 F Zoedone 8 11-11 S. Harding Cou Kinsky 5/1 23RD (CT) May have been poisoned before race. Fell at preliminary hurdle, badly damaging a hoof. Slowly away, not jumping with usual alacrity and soon struggling towards rear. Last but one and well behind WJ. Became tailed off early 2C. Last when fell into ditch CT, where lay for 10 minutes.
  P Belmont 8 10-11 F. Wynne W. Canavan 100/6 21ST (BB) Initially mid-division but towards rear from 3rd. No improvement 2C and PU immediately after BB.
  P Candahar 6 10-12 R. Sherwood W. Hunt 25/1 21ST (BB) Appeared slightly lame before start. Nevertheless, away well but soon lost position and towards rear by CT 1C. Rear of mid-division WJ. Became tailed off early 2C and PU BB (hopelessly lame).
  P Kilworth 8 11-06 S. Harding Cpt R. Owen 10/1 END 1C Towards rear until refused 2nd, kept going. Refused again 3rd, kept going utterly tailed off. 18th & last, half a mile behind Zoedone, WJ. PU at end of 1C.
  F Harlequin 10 10-00 D. Marsh B. Sensier 50/1 4TH Mid to rear until very badly hampered & fell 4th.



With regard to the excellent changes to the course there is a slight possibility that the small fence returned at the Water Jump in 1884. Some modern sources claim that 1885 marked the debut of the preliminary hurdle, however, a practice hurdle had pretty well always been jumped as part of the pre-race routine - the infelicitous events this year merely drew widespread attention to its presence. Having fallen at it and badly damaged a toe Zoedone should have been withdrawn. At the very least, granted that Count Kinsky was uncertain whether or not his mare had been poisoned, the nobleman would have been wiser to pull her up long before the second Canal Turn. The licence holder W.H.P. Jenkins was adamant she could not have been got to, blaming a stable lad's nail for the prick of blood on Zoedone's nose. However, I firmly believe she was nobbled by somebody in the crowd on behalf of bookmakers. The mare had been backed in many doubles with the Lincoln winner and warnings of doping were received, there was a needle-like mark on her hooter, her behaviour before and during the race was consistent with having been drugged, and the poor horse was never the same again. Nothing could be proved but the probable poisoning of Zoedone cast a shadow over the 1885 Grand National.

As it turned out the bookies needn't have fretted because Zoedone, who had flopped although with excuses either side of her 1883 Heavy ground triumph in a relatively weak renewal, would have been hard pressed to successfully concede weight to the first three, all of whom displayed improved form in 1885. The youngest of them Roquefort advanced by far the most whilst also benefiting from a more judicious ride than he received last year. This came courtesy of Ted Wilson who was victorious for the second National in a row. 'The Farmer' was exactly the type of strong jockey required for Roquefort who was a bit of a monkey, inclined to pull hard and to veer to the left. The partnership enabled prolific winning trainer Arthur Yates to achieve the Grand National success (the general consensus being that Yates should receive the credit for doing the bulk of Roquefort's training before a late sale led to the horse's final preparation being carried out by William Wilson) that had eluded him as a rider and owner in a renewal that boasted the largest field since 1876. E.P. Wilson, who could teach his rival something about persistence, again denied Harry Beasley from as yet emulating his own brother despite Frigate, who became the latest dual runner-up, once more coming out best at the weights. Machell and Jewitt worked their wonders one more time to get the most out of 13-y-o new acquisition Black Prince. Gamecock, who carried the minimum weight but ran with some promise for a long way, and Lang Syne cannot be considered unlucky because both were less prominent than they had been when departing at the last down the canal side on the second circuit.

Returning to Black Prince, there is the strange mystery of rider Tommy Skelton! What I consider to be a very reliable source has this jockey as being born in 1856 and dying in 1900. Another, sometimes reliable, source has claims that he was born 12 years later as Tom Tagg (so he would have been 17 in 1885) and lived until 1946. This source claims that, although a professional, he chose to ride under a different name (i.e. Tommy Skelton) and then reverted to Tagg upon retirement from the saddle. I don't know why Tagg's descendants would claim this if it were not true but on balance (and this is supported by an independent expert on jockeys) I have more faith in the very reliable source and will go with the real name of this person as being Skelton (rather than recording it as Tagg).

Frigate emerged strictly 8 (pounds/lengths) superior to Roquefort in the 1885 Grand National, 23 better than Black Prince and 27 in advance of Redpath. As in 1884 the going was Good and a basic time/weight comparison shows that Roquefort carried 9lb more than had Voluptuary and ran 5s slower. Applying a Good ground measure of 3 lengths per second this would make the former's performance the inferior by 6. However, there are two other factors to take into account. On the one hand, due to a showery morning in 1885 the decent surface was nowhere near as quick as last year, when it was on the fast side, and the pace in 1885, although consistent and sustained, was not as blindingly rapid as it had been in 1884. But on the other, there was no plough whatsoever for the first time this year (exactly how much there was in 1884 is not known). All in all these factors incline me to feel that Roquefort's effort was very similar to Voluptuary's (whose raw rating I pegged at -38). As alluded to above, the winner and runner-up in 1885 were certainly young enough to be improving and old Black Prince had alighted in an expert stable. Frigate appears to have run almost identically to how she did in 1884 so I will give her a raw rating this year of -29 (compared to -30) and this places Roquefort at -37 (raw). I will also allow Frigate 1 for her mistake at the 29th which gives her the same final rating as last year, -28. Similarly, I will grant Roquefort 3 for his first circuit error and comfort of victory, an ultimate mark of -34 (compared to -48 in 1884 when just a 5-y-o and did too much too soon). Black Prince (previous best of -53 on Heavy in 1883) merits -52 and Redpath gets -56.



> Frustratingly, contemporary newspapers are wildly conflicting in their reports of this race. Between us Mick Mutlow and I have looked at well over a dozen rags. We are unanimous on everything bar three horses in respect of whom we agree it is a toss up. In contrast to what I have put in the race facts above Mick has: Belmont as PU VB 2C; Kilworth as refused 3rd, went on and refused 4th, went no further; and Harlequin as fell 3rd.         







Copyright 2017 by Chris Dowling