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For the Record: The ten greatest performances in the Grand National.

Byline: John Randall

THE ten best post-war performances in the Grand National, selected on merit according to strict handicapping principles, consist mainly of gallant losing efforts. This is inevitable bearing in mind that in a handicap the best horse usually loses.

Eight of the ten best performances in the Grand National since 1946 were recorded in defeat: five by runners-up, two by Prince Regent when he was third and fourth, and one by Devon Loch.

The two winning efforts that qualified were by Freebooter (1950) and Early Mist (1953), though Red Rum (1974) just missed out.

Suny Bay's second place in 1998 is the only entry in the top ten since Crisp's defeat by Red Rum in 1973, whereas most of the best displays date from the first decade after the war, when the race was still arguably the ultimate prize in steeplechasing and attracted a higher-class field than it does now.

Even the least of these performances would have won many renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Prince Regent's run in the first post-war National was No.1 by a wide margin.

In For the Record's list of the ten best post-war Grand National winners, starting tomorrow, the horses are assessed on the best of their career performances, and in many cases that means form away from Aintree.

L'Escargot, Rough Quest and Royal Athlete have been among the best horses to win the race in that period, but what made them outstanding was their form elsewhere - specifically their runs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which they finished first, second and third respectively. Their winning performances in the Grand National were not good enough to rank in the top ten below.

1. Prince Regent

1946 3rd, 12st 5lb

The first great horse trained by Tom Dreaper, Prince Regent was the champion steeplechaser for five consecutive seasons from 1941/42, but wartime travel restrictions confined him to Ireland until he was past his prime.

Jimmy Rank's 11-year-old easily won the 1946 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and three weeks later he put up the greatest performance ever seen in a post-war Grand National when carrying top weight of 12st 5lb into third place. The hot favourite did not jump well and was in front too soon. Jockey Tim Hyde said: "Riderless horses kept coming up and interfering with us as we were about to take off. In order to avoid trouble I had to make use of the Prince's speed."

At the final fence he was clear but exhausted, and he weakened quickly, eventually being beaten four lengths and three by Lovely Cottage (received 25lb) and Jack Finlay (received 31lb). The following year he carried 12st 7lb into fourth place.

Prince Regent's defeats under crushing burdens signalled the end of the National as the blue riband of steeplechasing; thereafter the Gold Cup was the main target for the top horses.

2. Crisp

1973 2nd, 12st

Crisp's uniquely spectacular, bold-jumping, front-running display under top weight of 12st in 1973 was the best Grand National performance of the last 50 years. The 1971 Two-Mile Champion Chase winner was a long way clear for most of the way, but he slowed almost to a walk on the run-in and Red Rum (received 23lb) caught him and won by three-quarters of a length in record time, with L'Escargot a distant third.

Fred Winter's Australian-bred was ridden by Richard Pitman, who wrote: "I had an experience that will last me to my grave."

3. Freebooter

1950 won, 11st 11lb

Freebooter put up the best Grand National-winning performance since Golden Miller (1934) when triumphing in 1950. This Liverpool specialist started joint-favourite despite his burden of 11st 11lb but did well to survive a blunder at the Chair, where he almost dislodged Jimmy Power. He was left in the lead when Cloncarrig fell at the second-last - Power said: "I was never more relieved to see a horse fall" - and won by 15 lengths from Wot No Sun.

Trained by Bobby Renton for Lurline Brotherton, Freebooter failed to complete the course in his two subsequent Nationals.

4. Suny Bay

1998 2nd, 12st

Winner of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup in 1997 and runner-up in two consecutive Grand Nationals (1997-98), Suny Bay recorded a supremely game effort under top weight of 12st in 1998. On exceptionally testing ground, Graham Bradley rode a waiting race on the grey and joined the leaders at Becher's Brook on the second circuit, but Earth Summit (received 23lb) drew away in the closing stages to win by 11 lengths.

Trainer Charlie Brooks said: "The weight got to him, but someone has to carry top weight and I'm very proud of the horse." The following autumn he was briefly the top-rated steeplechaser in Britain.

5. Prince Regent

1947 4th, 12st 7lb

Twelve months after his brave third in the Grand National, Prince Regent made a second attempt. He again started favourite despite carrying top weight of 12st 7lb but, at the age of 12, had deteriorated by nearly a stone since the previous year. In very testing conditions, he did not jump well but plugged on to finish fourth, 30 lengths behind the winner, 100-1 shot Caughoo (received 35lb).

He tried again the following year but was carried out by a loose horse.

6. Mont Tremblant

1953 2nd, 12st 5lb

Mont Tremblant won the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice in 1952, but his effort when second in the following year's Grand National was equally meritorious. Ridden by Dave Dick and always prominent under top weight of 12st 5lb, the French-bred was the only danger to Early Mist from a long way out, but the effort of giving 17lb to that high-class rival proved too much and he was beaten 20 lengths.

Trained by Fulke Walwyn for Dorothy Paget, Mont Tremblant was only seven but never reproduced this form, though he continued to win good races.

7. Roimond

1949 2nd, 11st 12lb

In 1948/49 Roimond was second in both the King George VI Chase and the Grand National. Carrying top weight of 11st 12lb at Liverpool, he was always prominent but Russian Hero (received 18lb) beat him by eight lengths. He fell on his other four runs in the race.

Roimond was trained by George Beeby for Lord Bicester. His regular jockey, Dick Francis, wrote: "He was moody. Sometimes he tackled the job with a will to win, and on those occasions he was magnificent, but on other days he would set off in a race as if he were utterly bored by it all."

8. Devon Loch

1956 slipped up, 11st 4lb

The most famous and dramatic loser in racing history, Devon Loch was clear and full of running in the 1956 Grand National when he suddenly sprawled and fell flat on his belly 50 yards from the line. He carried 11st 4lb and was at least half a dozen lengths in front of the high-class E.S.B., who received a pound. It was cruel luck for his owner, the Queen Mother, trainer, Peter Cazalet, and rider, Dick Francis, who thinks the deafening cheers of the crowd frightened the horse.

Devon Loch confirmed his class later in the year when runner-up in the King George VI Chase.

9. Early Mist

1953 won, 11st 2lb

The 1953 Grand National was most notable for Mont Tremblant's second under 12st 5lb but, in beating that former Cheltenham Gold Cup victor in runaway style, Early Mist (11st 2lb) put up a performance that has not been matched by any subsequent winning effort in the race. Left in the lead at the 20th fence, he drew further and further away under Bryan Marshall and won by 20 lengths.

A faller at the first fence the previous year, Early Mist was the first of three consecutive Grand National winners trained by Vincent O'Brien, who said: "He had a bit of speed. He wasn't a jumper as such."

10. Freddie

1965 2nd, 11st 10lb

Freddie was a gallant runner-up in two consecutive Nationals and in the first of them, in 1965, he took part in an epic duel. The top-weight (11st 10lb) and hot favourite had only Jay Trump to beat from five out. The American challenger (received 5lb) jumped the final fence in front and soon went clear, but Freddie fought back under Pat McCarron and reduced the gap to three-quarters of a length.

Twelve months later Freddie, owned and trained by Reg Tweedie in Scotland, was beaten 20 lengths by lightweight Anglo.


Crisp (above, right) put up the best National run of the last 50 years when losing to Red Rum; (right) Prince Regent posted the best run since the war
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 2, 2002
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