Grand National Jockeys
During the National Hunt racing season, jockeys mount their ride and potentially risk their lives to hurdle the fences, remain aboard and push the horse to its maximum limits. The jockey is the leader of a horse’s destiny and the architect of its route through the race. The jockey needs to be primed not only in the knowledge of the horse and its personality and characteristics but in their own fitness and capabilities of riding.
A great jockey can improve the chances of winning and this should not be overlooked when taking a view on a race. What are the main attributes that make a jockey great? During a race they need to react to situations that develop almost instantaneously, providing flexibility and adaptability to the horse they are riding to maximise its performance.
First and foremost, jockeys tend to have a lightweight frame and they need to be strict about their physique, diet and exercise regime. The average weight of a jockey is between 50 kg and 60 kg and they are of slight frame. Bravery is key as jumping the fences has its dangers if dismounted with other horses following suit with weights in excess of 10 or 20 times that of the jockey. Over 200 injuries occur to jockeys each year.
Jockeys need to collaborate with trainers and understand the horse’s attributes to run a race that will challenge the competition. To do that they also need to be knowledgeable about the competition so they need to spend time doing their homework. Maintaining concentration during the race and not being led astray in the heat of the moment requires an aggressive approach yet being able to remain calm.
The jockey can be as important as the horse and winners are often a great combination of a quality ride coupled with the jockey steering towards success. Without the jockey the horse will not be able to perform to its best ability. Since 2012, any jockey riding in the Grand National must have ridden a minimum of 10 winners over fences and a minimum of 15 in total in hurdles and chases. Let us take a look at some famous jockeys that have participated in the Grand National.
Probably a relatively unknown name to the majority, but George Stevens won the Grand National five time between 1856 and 1870. To this day no other jockey has won the National as many times as Stevens. Winning 76 races during this time he rode Freetrader in 1856, Emblem in 1863, Emblematic in 1864 and The Colonel in 1869/70. The Colonel is one of only five horses to win the Grand National twice. Relating back to the dangers and bravery of being a jockey, Stevens died in 1871 after falling from a horse and fracturing his skull.
In 1982 Dick Saunders became the oldest jockey to win the Grand National at the age of 48 and what’s more he was an amateur. Owned and trained by Frank Gilman, Dick Saunders raced home by 15 lengths with Grittar as the 7/1 favourite. Saunders retired after the race to become a chairman of the Aintree stewards. The previous year’s winner Aldaniti fell at the first hurdle and another great fact from this race is that Geraldine Rees became the first female jockey to finish the race in eighth place on Cheers.
One of the most successful jockeys ever to live, Ruby Walsh won the Grand National on two occasions. A winner of 2,700 winners these included a remarkable 59 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, mounting Kauto Star on the way.
Ruby Walsh was a winner of the leading rider’s award on seven occasions and at only 20 years of age, won his first Grand National in 2000 on Papillon, at his first attempt in this prestigious race. He had to wait until 2005 to repeat the feat when heading home to win on Hedgehunter. Hedgehunter had fallen at the last fence the previous year when well placed and in 2006 finished second.
Sir Anthony McCoy
In 2010 a jockey of 1.78m (5’10’’) weighing 63.5kg raced to victory in the 2010 Grand National riding Don’t Push It. This very person was Tony McCoy, now known as Sir Anthony McCoy. The Northern Irish superstar jockey has well over 4,000 career wins to his name, mainly winning over jumps. During his career, not only did he win the Grand National but also added the titles of Scottish Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Champion Hurdle to his collection. He was knighted in 2016, was BBC Sports personality of the year in 2010 and a British Jump Racing Champion on no fewer than 20 occasions.
It took Sir Anthony 15 attempts to crack the Grand National. Don’t Push It jumped the last fence racing neck and neck with Black Apalachi, only for McCoy to take the horse into the lead in the run in and win by five lengths.
At only seventeen years of age in 1938, Bruce Hobbs became the youngest winning jockey of the Grand National riding Battleship to a narrow victory. By the conclusion of the 1937/38 season, Hobbs had ridden 35 winners and became the first jockey to win three Grand Nationals in one year. The Second World War interrupted his career as a jockey as he served in the Queens Own Yorkshire Dragoons becoming a Captain and being awarded the Military Cross.
Count Graf Karl Kinsky
An Austrian known as Karl, 8th Prince Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau, became the first rider of international origin to race the Grand National in 1883. Being of such high standing it might not be of surprise that Count Karl had his own stables and a love of horses. The prior year at the Grand National a mare named Zoedone finished in 3rd place. Taking a liking to the horse, Count Karl purchased Zoedone. Therefore, it was appropriate for him to ride his recently purchased mare to victory the following year. Reports suggest Zoedone was sadly poisoned on race day two years later. The 1883 Grand National happened to field the smallest line up ever recorded with only 10 horses under starter’s orders. Count Karl was an Austro-Hungarian attaché to Britain but by 1914 found himself having to leave his second home due to the First World War
It is a must to mention the winning jockey of last year’s Grand National. Minella Times was the winning horse and is due to run again in 2022. However, what made this Grand National special is that Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National in the 182-year history of the event. A great achievement and others will come for the Irish woman as her track record boasts a leading jockey award at the Cheltenham Festival with six wins and a BBC World Sports Star of the Year award. It is widely expected Rachael Blackmore will mount Minella Times at the Grand National in 2022. Can she further cement her name in history?
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