Grand National Ultimate History



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The course was altered to its classic, recognisable line causing the Elbow to be created and shortening the race distance by 149yds (see 1887, discussion). All the hurdles (i.e. the former 13th, 28th, 29th and 30th) were banished and two new plain fences were introduced as the 13th/29th and 14th/30th. These made the Chair the 15th and the WJ the 16th, and the former 1st/16th became the 1st/17th, etc, etc, up to the former 12th/27th which became the 12th/28th. The lane which was initially sunken was now called the Melling Road and the 1st/17th and 2nd/18th were moved slightly closer to it and the start. Because of this resiting and the remodelling to Gladstone fences the 2nd/18th was no longer known as Fan. The course was at its toughest from now through 1928 (due to the fences being upright and there being a ditch at the CT). The details of the obstacles, with previously known former dimensions in brackets where different, are: 1st/17th - 4' 6" H; 2nd/18th - 5' H; 3rd/19th (OD) - ditch 6' 3" W (6' 8"), fence 4' 6" H; 4th/20th - 5' H; 5th/21st - 4' 6" H; 6th/22nd (BB) - fence 4' 6" H, brook 9' 6" W; 7th/23rd - 5' 6" H; 8th/24th (CT, OD) - ditch 6' W, fence 5' H; 9th/25th (VB) - fence 5' H, brook 5' W; 10th/26th - 4' 6" H; 11th/27th (OD) - ditch 6' W, fence 4' 6" H; 12th/28th - fence 5' H, ditch 6' W; 13th/29th - 4' 6" H; 14th/30th - 4' 6" H; 15th (Chair, OD) - ditch 6' W, fence 4' 6" H; 16th (WJ) - fence 2' H, TW 13' 3".     


Fr 23 Mar 1888 (3.30) 4m 4f Good 10.12.00 20 £1,175 Captain N. Baird

  1 Playfair 7 10-07 T. Cannon G. Mawson 40/1   Slowly away. Mid-division 1C, 9th (of 15) WJ. Progress to chase leaders when slipped on take off 20th, straddled fence and recovered with jockey around neck until aided back into saddle by another rider. Renewed headway CS, 3rd ABC. Took lead before last where narrowly ahead. Ran on very well.
84 85 86 87 2 Frigate 10 11-02 M. Maher W. Beasley 100/8 10 Very prominent from VB 1C, 2nd WJ. In similar position when nearly carried out and into the canal by Usna on landing 27th. Tremendous effort to make up ground lost and be nearly level with leader last but no more to give.
87 3 Ballot Box 9 12-04 Sam Darling William Nightingall 25/1 4 Slowly away but gradual headway to lead VB 1C. Soon headed, 5th WJ. Remained very handy until left in lead briefly before 28th. Outpaced after. Kept on dourly.
  4 Ringlet 7 11-11 T. Skelton T. Skelton 100/9 1 Away well & led 1st. Headed before BB 1C and had dropped to mid-division by WJ. Steady progress 2C to lead briefly after 28th. Left in lead again 29th. Headed before last. Weakened.
  5 Aladdin 6 11-00 T. Cannon C. Waller 33/1 4 Soon very prominent and led from 13th until headed BB 2C. Reduced to pursuing leaders thereafter. Threatened to fade further late CS but plugged on dourly.
  6 Jeanie 5 10-06 W. Wilson A. Barker 200/1   Prominent 1st but soon faded and last WJ. Modest late progress past beaten horses.
85 86 87 7 Gamecock 9 12-04 A. Yates Cpt R. Owen 20/1   Chased leaders VB 1C. Mid-division WJ. Headway early 2C but beaten by ABC and eased.
  8 Magic 9 10-12 J. Jones A. Hall 25/1   Chased leaders CS 1C, 6th WJ. Suffered overreach CT 2C but still 6th VB and prominent ABC. Faded badly thereafter and eased.
86 9 The Badger 11 11-01 T. Leader jnr A. Nightingall 10/1   Chased leaders by BB 1C, 7th WJ. More prominent BB 2C and led briefly CS. Weakened very badly thereafter.
86 87 F Savoyard 10 12-04 S. Harding G. Lambton 25/1 29TH Very prominent over 1st then settled in mid-division 1C. Steady progress 2C to be 2nd at ABC and took lead on run to 29th. Narrowly ahead and going well when fell there.
87 P Chancellor 8 11-05 S. Harding W. Moore 8/1 AFT ABC 2C Held up 1C, last but one WJ. Rapid headway to become prominent early 2C but had dropped back to 8th by VB. Faded further CS & PU after ABC.
87 P Johnny Longtail 10 12-00 A. Yates B. Dollery 40/1 AFT ABC 2C Chased leaders until became very prominent CS 1C, 3rd WJ. Began to fade early 2C and tailed off when PU after ABC.
86 87 P Old Joe 9 11-09 G. Mulcaster W. Daniels 18/1 AFT ABC 2C Away very well & took lead 3rd. Headed before BB 1C and gradually faded to be towards rear WJ. Became tailed off 2C and PU after ABC.
  P Usna 7 12-07 H. Linde H. Beasley 7/1F 27TH (OD) Towards rear BB 1C. Headway to chase leaders VB 1C and further progress to take lead down the CS. Headed 13th and 4th WJ. Led again from BB to VB 2C. Still very prominent when dislocated shoulder on landing 27th, swerved in distress towards the canal & immediately PU.
  F Trap 8 10-06 Sam Darling G. Lowe 20/1 17TH Away well & very prominent until VB 1C. Had dropped to a mid-division 8th WJ and in similar position when fell next.
87 F Bellona 6 11-12 J. Cannon C.J. Cunningham 100/6 13TH Slow jump 1st and rearmost. Still among backmarkers BB 1C. Headway into mid-division CS 1C. Fell 13th.
  P Cork 7 10-06 E. Woodland W. Woodland 100/1 9TH (VB) Well towards rear until very bad mistake, slipped back into brook & immediately PU VB 1C.
  R Kinfauns 7 10-10 W. Roser J. Page 100/1 3RD (OD) Mid-division until refused 3rd.
87 R Spahi 7 11-09 H. Linde T. Kavanagh 33/1 3RD (OD) Slowly away & towards rear, refused 3rd.
  F The Fawn 6 10-06 T. Wadlow T. Wilson 20/1 2ND Chased leaders, fell 2nd.



The first Grand National run over the race's most enduring course line provided a big shock. Playfair, who had been doing very well in hunters' races, defied the joint longest winning odds (Salamander, 1866) in triumphing over a good quality field, almost half of the runners carried 11st 9lb or more. He also overcame an unlucky slip at the 20th, mainly thanks to Arthur Nightingall (son of the trainer John). It's impossible to verify whether or not young Nightingall really did pull George Mawson back into the saddle, however, such sportsmanship between jump jockeys is not uncommon and Arthur says he did in his book so I believe the tale. Ironically, given how the race then unfolded, Arthur's noble action unwittingly did a disservice to his older brother William who had chosen to ride Ballot Box over Playfair! Talking of siblings, the winner's trainer Tom Cannon, a great Flat jockey who was still riding on the level, was the elder brother of Joe (who had been victorious with Regal in the 1876 National). Playfair received a further slice of good fortune when Frigate, on this occasion ridden by Willie Beasley having twice previously been piloted by Harry of that ilk, was nearly carried out by Usna (yet one more Linde 'superstar' to go wrong) who was Harry's mount this year. Oh, brother! You couldn't make it up! Frigate, back in the yard of Mat Maher, was runner-up for an unprecedented third time. If she had offended the stable cat she would soon be forgiven. There would be no such recompense for Savoyard whose 1887 2nd now became sandwiched between a pair of late falls, however, previous form indicates the horse had too much weight to win in 1888 and the course changes meant it was still a long way home from the 29th. Playfair proceeded to run out on his only subsequent career run. George Mawson would go on to ride several more big race winners before tragically dying from complications that followed a bad fall at Sandown in 1896.

Ultimately, I believe it's fairest to rate the form of the 1888 Grand National around Frigate, however, it was not a straightforward process to reach that determination. The pace stood up but the winning time was outside those recorded on similar Good going in 1885 and 1887, whereas with the race distance being 149yds shorter it would have needed to be a deal faster to equate (I will discuss comparing times at different distances in more detail in 1891 and, particularly, in 1893). In addition, Playfair carried half a stone less than had Roquefort and Gamecock. However, the jumping test was now much stiffer, for example, four fences had effectively replaced three hurdles since last year, and the winner and runner-up in the 1888 National were both affected by misfortune which prevented them from completing the course as quickly as they might otherwise have done. The latter fact also has a bearing on calculations at the weights for this renewal, how much should Playfair and Frigate be allowed to compensate for ground lost? (One modern source suggests 50 lengths in respect of the latter but that can only be considered a huge exaggeration). With Frigate having returned to the care of Maher and glancing to the future, therefore, I reckon that her rating of -25 achieved under the Enniscorthy trainer in 1885 is akin to a lifebelt in the uncertainty of a shipwreck. I feel it's reasonable to allow Frigate a minimum of 10 (pounds/lengths) and Playfair 7, so adjusting computations accordingly I will award Ballot Box -23, Frigate her -25, Playfair -27, Ringlet -31 and Aladdin -46.            







Copyright 2017 by Chris Dowling