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Saturday, 19 September 2020

Foinavon


In the history of the Grand National, first run, officially, in 1839, five winners have been returned at a starting price of 100/1. However, the most famous of that celebrated quintet is undoubtedly Foinavon, the winner of the 1967 renewal under truly extraordinary circumstances. Having been turned down by three other jockeys, unheralded no-hoper Foinavon eventually became the mount of John Buckingham, but his trainer, John Kempton – who was still combining riding with training at the time – headed not to Aintree, but to Worcester, where he rode the winner of the opening race.


In the National, though, a dramatic series of events began when a loose horse, the aptly-named Popham Down, ran down the twenty-third fence – ironically, the smallest fence on the course at just 4’ 6” – and initiated what commentator Michael O’Hehir called ‘a right pile-up’. Popham Down cannoned into his nearest rival, Rutherfords, causing him to unseat his jockey and, in the ensuing mêlée, all bar one of the horses still standing fell, unseated rider or were otherwise brought to a standstill.

The notable exception, of course, was Foinavon, who was steered wide on the course and jumped into a clear lead. Michael O’Hehir was not exaggerating when he said, ‘And now, with all this mayhem, Foinavon has gone off on his own! He’s about fifty, a hundred yards in front of everything else’. Indeed, John Buckingham later admitted that he looked around, disbelieving, at the 30-length lead Foinavon held over his nearest pursuer when he reached the twenty-fourth fence, the Canal Turn.

Many of the jockeys who came to grief at the twenty-third fence – which, since 1984, has officially been known as ‘Foinavon’ – remounted and set off in vain pursuit. However, Foinavon had stolen a march on his rivals and, although favourite Honey End, ridden by Josh Gifford, made significant headway over the final half a dozen fences, he was still 15 lengths behind at the winning post.

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