Grand National Ultimate History



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At all plain fences the base was brought forward to create a slight apron and thus prevent horses from getting in too close. The fence at BB was made a little thicker and the landing ground slightly raised, as was that at VB very slightly. 4th/20th - 5' H (was 4' 10"); 16th (WJ) - fence 2' 6" H (3'), TW 15' (15' 6").


Fr 23 Mar 1923 (3.01) 4m 4f Good to Firm 9.36.00 28 £7,850 L. Sanford

19 20 22 1 Sergeant Murphy 13 11-03 G. Blackwell Cpt T. Bennet 100/6   Steady start in mid-division but led by BB 1C and never out of first 2 thereafter. Headed circa Chair, 2nd (of 12) WJ. Led again, narrowly, BB 2C. Joined VB and mistake 26th but ahead again 27th. Joined once more ABC but repelled all challengers over last 2. Kept on well.
19 21 22 2 Shaun Spadah 12 12-07 G. Poole D. Rees 20/1 3 Away well & led. Headed before BB 1C where 4th. 3rd WJ, 5th BB & VB 2C. 4th just before 29th and game effort to challenge for a close 2nd approaching last. Took 2nd just after and kept on well but always held.
  3 Conjuror 11 11-00 T. Coulthwaite C. Dewhurst 100/6 6 Mid-division, 12th BB 1C. Chased leaders in 6th WJ. Headway into 3rd by BB 2C. Badly hampered (by Drifter) 23rd, sustaining injury to mouth, and 6th CT. Rallied gamely to be a close 3rd just before 29th and soon took 2nd. Joined for that position approaching last and dropped to 3rd just after. Weakened.
  4 Punt Gun 10 11-01 J. Woodman M. Tighe 20/1 15 Chased leaders, 7th BB 1C. Gradual progress: 5th WJ, 4th BB 2C, 3rd CT. However, dropped to 6th VB and only able to plug on very one-paced, inheriting a couple of places.
22 5 Drifter 9 10-10 F. Morgan B. Watkinson 20/1 DIST Away well & very prominent, 2nd BB 1C. Took lead circa Chair and despite jumping badly right at that obstacle led over WJ. Had lost lead and ground by BB 2C where 6th. Rallied to be 3rd VB. Bad mistake next but disputed lead ABC then a close 2nd until just before 29th whereupon commenced to weaken very badly. 
  6 Max 7 11-05 H. Ussher J. Hogan jnr 25/1   Started off quite prominently, 6th BB 1C. Had dropped to 10th & rear of main group by WJ. 7th from BB to VB 2C but increasingly towards rear of survivors and weakened very badly.
  7 Cinders 11 10-02 J. Betts W. Williams 100/1   Already well towards rear at 1st. Well tailed off by late CS 1C. Utterly tailed off 9th & last BB 2C. Lumbered on.
  U Pencoed 8 10-03 Lt Col F. Lort-Phillips D. Thomas 100/1 28TH Started off in mid-division. Became prominent by BB 1C where 5th. 4th WJ, 2nd from BB to CT 2C, disputed lead VB. 2nd when mistake & UR 28th.
  F Square Dance 11 12-00 G. Poole L.B. Rees 100/6 28TH Always in mid-division 1C. 10th BB, hampered CT, 9th WJ. At rear of those in contention for much of 2C, generally in 8th. No progress and beaten when fell 28th.
  F Trentino 9 11-07 Maj J. Wilson Maj J. Wilson 66/1 22ND (BB) Mid-division. 11th BB 1C and 8th WJ. 9th & last of main group when took a right purler BB 2C.
21 U Forewarned 8 11-05 A. Hastings J. Anthony 11/2F 21ST Away well & chased leaders, 9th BB 1C and 7th WJ. 10th & last of main group, under severe pressure, when tired mistake & UR 21st.
  P Cinzano 6 10-00 T. Coulthwaite F. Brown 100/1 END 1C Away quite well but gradually lost position within main group. Mid to rear when broke blood vessel late 1C & rapidly became completely tailed off, 12th & last WJ. PU shortly after.
20 21 F Turkey Buzzard 10 12-06 W. Payne F. Brookes 33/1 15TH (CHAIR) Chased leaders, 8th BB 1C. Showed little enthusiasm and fell Chair.
  R Madrigal 6 10-12 B. Gore D. Colbert 66/1 15TH (CHAIR) Became very prominent by BB 1C, where 3rd, but badly lost position, not helped by mistakes CT 1C & 11th, and towards rear when refused Chair, where also finally succeeded in discarding rider.
  R Libretto 8 10-03 P. Whitaker G. Parfrement 100/8 11TH (OD) Away quite well but a rear of mid-division 14th BB 1C. Little change when refused 11th depositing jockey onto turf.
  U Pam Nut 10 10-00 W. Jackson S. Duffy 100/1 10TH Mid to rear, 13th BB 1C. In 12th but further towards rear when very bad mistake & UR 10th.
22 R Arravale 8 11-02 P. Whitaker P. Whitaker 10/1 6TH (BB) Away well but had dropped towards rear when refused BB 1C, decanting jockey.
  R Gardenrath 8 10-00 D. Rogers J. Whelehan 66/1 6TH (BB) Towards rear until refused BB 1C, unshipping rider.
  U Canny Knight 9 10-00 A. Scott A. Vause 100/1 6TH (BB) Towards rear, last by 5th. Well tailed off when very bad mistake & UR BB 1C.
22 F Masterful 10 10-00 B. Gore P. Roberts 100/1 5TH Led to start. Enthusiastic and had become prominent when fell 5th. Broke leg. Dead.
  F Duettiste 10 11-07 H. Escott T. Escott 40/1 5TH Away quite well but only in rear portion of mid-division when mistake & UR 3rd. Remounted, well tailed off. Fell 5th.
  F My Rath 11 10-08 G. Bennett C. Chapman 66/1 4TH Initially mid-division but had become prominent when fell 4th.
  F Liffeybank 12 10-07 Cpt R. Gooch K. Gibson 100/1 4TH Had advanced into the fore part of mid-division when fell heavily 4th.
22 F Taffytus 10 11-07 T. Leader jnr T.E. Leader 100/8 4TH Away well but had dropped to midfield when collided with Eureka & fell 4th.
  F Eureka 6 11-00 B. Gore A. Stubbs 40/1 4TH Mid-division until collided with Taffytus & fell 4th.
  R Ammonal 6 10-07 O. Anthony I. Morgan 40/1 4TH Soon towards rear and apparently not enjoying the experience. Had dropped to last bar Duettiste when refused 4th.
19 20 22 U The Turk 13 10-02 Cpt C. Elsey C. Donnelly 100/1 3RD (OD) Rear of mid-division until mistake & UR 3rd.
  F Navana 9 10-00 C. Davis F. Mason 66/1 1ST Slowly away & rearmost, fell 1st.



In response to the criticisms that followed last year's race Aintree both raised entry fees and made the change to plain fences (noted above) for the 1923 Grand National. The lower two foot of these obstacles was extended by about two feet towards the approaching runners to make a kind of bulge that was a different shade to the main body of the fences. A marginal positive effect in reducing the number of fallers ensued but not enough of one to suggest that the jumping test was lessened to a degree that would totally explain why times generally improved from 1923 on. The development of steeplechasing and training methods (see 1919) is the more likely reason. It could be said that other trainers had gradually caught up with Tom Coulthwaite and now taken forward some of the methods he employed to improve horses' fitness (much like what would occur in a later era, that of Martin Pipe). The going for the 1923 National was the fastest since 1906 and the winning times per weight carried very similar, what is remarkable, however, is that Sergeant Murphy and Shaun Spadah were veterans, past the ages at which further improvement is likely and both had remained with the same fine trainers, yet each put up his best National performance. Sergeant Murphy, the older of the two, bettered his previous efforts by the greater amount, it appears he relished the decent surface (he had been running well on Good in 1922 when slipping and sparking mayhem) but that does not account for all of his advancement, whilst Shaun Spadah, having won on Heavy in 1921, proved he had the class to handle any ground. The evolution of training, therefore, might be the key.

In light of that thought this may be an appropriate moment to reiterate the concept of general athletic improvement - all athletes, human and equine, inevitably grow stronger, faster over the decades for various reasons. For horses, some reasons are better training, fitness, nutrition and jockeyship. General athletic improvement, then, has to be taken into account when comparing the merit of horses belonging to different eras. It is an unscientific business, just as is time comparison (as I have also said previously). Multiple factors come into play when comparing times so it is helpful to have collateral form as well. Unfortunately, it is not always available and sometimes pure time comparisons are all there is to make. Apart from being particularly useful in the absence of collateral form, the tale of the clock is also dead handy in that a time or series of times remaining unsurpassed for a large number of years is very probably indication of a great horse or era.

Returning to the 1923 Grand National, run in a heavy mist and in which the surprising lightweight Pencoed may have been unlucky, the gallant and popular Sergeant Murphy made Laddie Sanford the first victorious American owner, brought joy to Derby-winning and mainly Flat trainer George Blackwell, and gave Captain Tuppy Bennet, a veterinary surgeon, the climactic moment of his riding career. Tragically, in late December Tuppy would receive a fatal kick to the head at Wolverhampton, dying early in 1924. This led to the NHC making the wearing of crash helmets compulsory in steeplechases. On a lighter note, after colliding with Taffytus and falling at the 4th Eureka thrashed his legs then lay as if dead only to rise Lazarus-like and trot away when the field came round for the second time. Truly a eureka moment!

As alluded to above, the 1923 National was the first run on Good to Firm since 1906. I reckon the jumping test was similar in both years but it was perhaps a sliver quicker ground in 1923 (bearing in mind the official description for 1906 was Good) and the protagonists also had the benefit of a bit of general athletic improvement over Ascetic's Silver, however, whilst they obviously went a very decent pace in 1923 the speed in 1906 was lightning quick (and thus would aid the winning time more), therefore, considering that Sergeant Murphy ran merely 1.60s slower than Ascetic's Silver while carrying 8lb more, all these factors incline me to award Sergeant Murphy the same raw figure as I did Ascetic's Silver, -39. At the weights in 1923 Shaun Spadah emerged 15 (pounds/lengths) superior to Sergeant Murphy, which is generally how they'd come out when previously clashing (as evidenced by the handicap). Therefore, Shaun Spadah is rated -24 for his weight-induced defeat, 2 better as a 12-y-o than when he won on Heavy in 1921. What a fine horse! I will uprate Sergeant Murphy 1 to -38 because he made a mistake and was holding the runner-up close home. Hypothetically I might have rated him -71 in 1919 on Good to Soft and -66 in 1920 on Heavy. Sergeant Murphy continued to improve even as a 13-y-o for better training methods although the much firmer ground in 1923 is the greater factor behind his higher merit mark. Conjuror was 27 inferior to Shaun Spadah, however, I will allow the former 7, for being badly hampered and suffering an injury to his mouth, for -44. Punt Gun gets -65. Perhaps I was generous in allowing Drifter, not the easiest to steer, 7 for -77 last year because on going that should have helped him stay better he weakened worsely in 1923. Drifter finished a distance behind the fourth and even if it was the minimum 30 lengths his rating would be -100. However, he didn't jump as well this year and did too much at a faster speed with 10lb more against better opposition.             








Copyright 2017 by Chris Dowling