Grand National Ultimate History



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The course was altered to its classic, recognisable line necessitating 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 to Soft 10.12.00 20 £1,175 Captain N. Baird

  1 Playfair 7 10-07 T. Cannon G. Mawson 40/1   Slowly away. Steady headway to be 6th CS 1C and 5th at 13th. 7th (of 15) WJ, chasing leaders. Continued to do so until slipped on take off 20th, straddled fence and recovered with jockey around neck. Aided back into saddle by rider on The Badger but slightly lost position, 9th VB 2C. Renewed headway into 5th again CS and inherited 3rd between 27th and 28th. Same place ABC but dropped to 4th soon after. However, left 3rd once more at 29th and took 2nd between last 2 despite hanging right. Gained lead immediately after last and ran on very well especially from Elbow.
84 85 86 87 2 Frigate 10 11-02 M. Maher W. Beasley 100/8 10 Mid to rear until beyond 1st but soon became and remained prominent. 6th from 3rd to BB 1C, 4th VB and 3rd ABC 1C. Disputed lead 13th, a close 2nd Chair & WJ. 5th early 2C but 3rd again BB & VB. In similar position when nearly carried out and into the canal by the injured Usna between CS ditch and 28th. Righted, driven and gamely made up ground lost. Left 2nd at 29th and took narrow outright lead between last 2. Headed immediately after last. Kept on but paid for tremendous effort especially from Elbow.
87 3 Ballot Box 9 12-04 Sam Darling William Nightingall 25/1 4 Slowly away but jumped well and had become prominent in 5th by BB 1C. Took lead soon after. Headed early CS 1C and dropped to 3rd. Fore of mid-division ABC but 3rd again at 13th, 5th once more WJ. 2nd early 2C until beyond BB, 5th again VB. Had gone back up to 2nd when left in lead briefly fairly soon after 27th. Only 4th ABC. Rather one-paced but kept on dourly to regain 3rd with 100y to go.
  4 Ringlet 7 11-11 T. Skelton T. Skelton 100/9 1 Away well & led 1st. 2nd at 3rd, led again 4th. Headed once more by BB 1C where 2nd again. Thence restrained and held up, 6th VB 1C, last but one ABC and 13th WJ. Renewed progress to be 7th BB & VB 2C, 3rd CS and disputed lead ABC. Returned to outright pole position soon after but a neck 2nd when left ahead again 29th. However, under pressure & beginning to tire and decisively headed before last where once more 3rd. Faded further and lost that position with 100y to go.
  5 Aladdin 6 11-00 T. Cannon C. Waller 33/1 4 Slowly away but mid-division 1st and further headway to be 3rd at 3rd & 4th. 4th BB 1C and pulled way into lead early CS. Headed before ABC where 2nd but disputed lead 13th and led alone again by Chair. Narrow advantage WJ. Headed again by BB 2C where once more 4th, however, vied for lead again VB. Began to fade CS and no threat after. 6th between last 2, allowed to finish 5th by easing rival.
  6 Jeanie 5 10-06 W. Wilson A. Barker 200/1 11 Away quite well, 4th at 1st. Soon lost position, 15th & last WJ. Still rearmost when stumbled upon landing 18th. Nevertheless, plugged on. 8th ABC. Modest late progress past beaten and eased horses.
85 86 87 7 Gamecock 9 12-04 A. Yates Cpt R. Owen 20/1   Initially chased leaders but towards rear 1st. Mid-division BB 1C, 8th VB. Fore of midfield CS & ABC 1C. 12th WJ. Headway early 2C, 5th at BB, ABC and between last 2 but never able to launch a telling challenge. Tired so ultimately eased to a walk, losing 2 places.
  8 Magic 9 10-12 J. Jones A. Hall 25/1   Mid-division, generally towards fore of same until chased leaders in 6th ABC 1C & WJ. Held same position early 2C and at VB despite suffering an overreach at CT, even improved into 4th CS. Beaten, however, circa ABC. 7th between last 2. Ultimately eased to a walk, losing 1 place.
87 9 Johnny Longtail 10 12-00 A. Yates B. Dollery 40/1   Chased leaders, 7th BB 1C. 5th VB 1C and very prominent CS. 4th from ABC to WJ. Had dropped to 8th by BB 2C and very badly further faded thereafter, finishing completely tailed off.
86 10 The Badger 11 11-01 T. Leader jnr A. Nightingall 10/1   Initially mid-division. Had become very prominent in 2nd by BB 1C. 4th CS 1C but merely chased leaders in 8th WJ. 7th early 2C, 6th BB and 4th VB. However, soon began to fade, dropping back to 7th and was well beaten by ABC. Continued to weaken badly and finished completely tailed off.
86 87 11 Old Joe 9 11-09 G. Mulcaster B. Daniels 18/1   Away well & very prominent. Led at 1st, 4th & BB 1C and when not ahead raced in 2nd until past VB 1C. Thereafter declined precipitously. Mid-division ABC, 14th & last but one WJ. Merely plodded on 2C and finished utterly tailed off.
86 87 F Savoyard 10 12-04 S. Harding G. Lambton 25/1 29TH Initially prominent but only fore of mid-division 1st then settled in midfield, 10th WJ. Continued to be held up 2C until well after BB. Headway into 6th CS and progressed into a dispute of lead ABC. Dropped to 2nd soon after but a neck ahead and going well when fell 29th.
87 P Chancellor 8 11-05 S. Harding W. Moore 8/1 ABC 2C Initially chased leaders. More prominent in 5th at 4th & BB 1C. Fairly handy CS 1C and 5th again ABC. 6th at 13th but declined rush for WJ where 11th. Rather rapid headway to become 4th early 2C but became tired and began to fade before BB. Had dropped back to 8th by VB. Continued to weaken and PU ABC as further pursuit hopeless.
  P Usna 7 12-07 H. Linde H. Beasley 7/1F 28TH Heavily bandaged both forelegs. Mid-division through BB 1C. Up to 7th VB 1C, 5th early CS and further progress to take lead before ABC. Headed by 13th, 3rd WJ and early 2C. Regained lead BB. Joined VB but ahead alone again when seriously wrenched shoulder and loins on flat before 28th, swerved in distress towards the canal & immediately PU.
  F Trap 8 10-06 Sam Darling G. Lowe 20/1 17TH Away well, 3rd at 1st and 4th at 3rd & 4th. 3rd again BB & VB 1C. Had dropped to 9th, chasing leaders, by WJ and in similar position when took off too soon & fell next.
87 F Bellona 6 11-12 J. Cannon C.J. Cunningham 100/6 13TH Enthusiastic at flag fall but already towards rear 1st and not helped by a tendency to jump sideways. Last at 3rd and left last again VB 1C. Still rearmost ABC and fell next (13th).
  P Cork 7 10-06 E. Woodland W. Woodland 100/1 9TH (VB) Initially mid-division but towards rear by BB 1C and last when very bad mistake, slipped back into brook & immediately PU VB 1C.
  R Kinfauns 7 10-10 W. Roser J. Page 100/1 3RD (OD) Initially mid-division. Chased leaders 1st and until hampered & refused 3rd.
87 R Spahi 7 11-09 H. Linde T. Kavanagh 33/1 3RD (OD) Slowly away & towards rear. Hampered & refused 3rd.
  F The Fawn 6 10-06 T. Wadlow T. Wilson 20/1 2ND Away well, 5th at 1st. 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 field that had strength in depth, 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 was and is not uncommon (indeed there was a similar occurence, that also aided the eventual winner, in 1887) 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 the much improved Ballot Box over Playfair! Talking of siblings, the victor's trainer Tom Cannon, a great Flat jockey who was still riding on the level, was the elder brother of Joe (who had been successful 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 the unfortunate 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 once offended a stable cat, black or otherwise, she would soon be forgiven. There would be no such recompense for Savoyard whose 1887 second place finish 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 an awfully long way home from the new 29th. Playfair proceeded to run out on his only subsequent career start. 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.

Following a severe winter which had left the ground unforgiving there was plenty of precipitation about on Grand National day 1888 and on the Thursday. By all accounts, and a glance ahead to future winning times confirms, this made the going roughly Good to Soft (as opposed to the official Good). I will discuss comparing times at different distances in more detail in 1891 and, particularly, in 1893 (the trip being 149yds shorter equates to about 11 seconds saved). I will not do so here because the most recent previous similar surface was in 1879 and there had been a multitude of other course changes subsequently, for example, four fences had effectively replaced three hurdles since 1887 alone. How, therefore, to assess the merit of the performances in 1888, a renewal in which the pace stood up? The only horse to finish in the first six who has a prior rating is Frigate (whom I awarded -28 in 1884 and 1885, both on Good). With the mare having returned to the care of Maher these efforts, achieved under the Enniscorthy trainer by Frigate, are akin to a lifebelt in the uncertainty of a shipwreck! Bearing in mind that she was not blessed with a turn of foot so Good to Soft would have suited her better than Good and once again glancing to the future a compromise figure of -25 is what I believe Frigate was capable of running to in 1888. However, and this also affected the time, neither the runner-up nor the winner, Playfair, were actually able to run to their limits this year due to the misadventures they encountered along the way. Therefore, we next have to ask how much ground was lost by Frigate in the Usna incident? One modern source suggests 50 lengths but that can only be considered a huge exaggeration and a reliable contemporary newspaper reckoned the interference cost Frigate about 10 lengths. Accordingly, I will give her a raw rating of -35. Strictly at the weights in the 1888 National Ballot Box emerged 12 (pounds/lengths) her superior and thus receives -23. Frigate, as above, gets -25. Playfair came out 11 inferior to Ballot Box, however, he is allowed 7 for his very bad mistake at the 20th and his ease of victory, to wit -27. Ringlet was 8 inferior to the horse who finished one place ahead of her so is rated -31. Aladdin emerged 23 worse than Ballot Box for -46 and Jeanie 42 poorer but is granted 1 by virtue of her mistake at the 18th for a final rating of -64.              







Copyright 2017 by Chris Dowling