Grand National legends

Sadly, the past year has seen the deaths of some famous people associated with the Grand National.

Toby Balding, who died aged 78 in September, saddled two winners of the great race in Highland Wedding (1969) and Little Polveir (1989).

He first had runners in the Grand National in 1957, aged just 20, after taking over the training licence on the death of his father Gerald.

Highland Wedding was a 12-year-old when successful in 1969 under Eddie Harty. It was a particularly successful year at Aintree for the trainer, as he also landed the Topham Chase with Dozo, who went on to finish fourth in the Grand National in 1970.

Little Polveir had only joined Balding’s yard six weeks prior to his success in 1989, having previously been in the care of John Edwards. Originally purchased to contest military races at Sandown Park, the 12-year- old relished the testing ground to come home under Jimmy Frost, seven lengths clear of the 1986 winner West Tip.

Balding was one of the few trainers to have also enjoyed winners of both the Champion Hurdle (Beech Road in 1989 and Morley Street in 1991) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Cool Ground in 1992) at Cheltenham.

Morley Street also landed the Aintree Hurdle a record four times (1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993) and was twice an Eclipse Award winner in America.

The trainer’s final Grade One victory came at Aintree in 2004 when Accipiter captured the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. His last Grand National runner was Kendal Cavalier, who finished 12th in 2000.

A noted tutor of jockeys, Grand National-winning riders Bob Champion, Richard Guest and AP (Tony) McCoy all spent time with Hampshire-based Balding early in their careers.

Michael Scudamore rode for 16 consecutive years in the Grand National, a 20th century record, with his first appearance in 1951. He finished second the following year on Legal Joy, five lengths behind the winner Teal, and in 1954 partnered the 15/2 favourite Irish Lizard who came third for the second consecutive time.

He enjoyed success on the ninth attempt in 1959 with Oxo, the 8/1 second favourite trained by Willie Stephenson, after riding a patient race. Oxo therefore circumvented the six horses who came down at Becher’s first time around and was left a close second when another four runners failed to get past Becher’s on the second circuit.

Scudamore had an advantage over the main challenger Wyndburgh, whose rider Tim Brookshaw had to cope with a broken off-side stirrup. Coming to the last, it looked as though Oxo would win well but the horse hit the fence hard. His jockey was like a limpet and remained in the saddle. However, the loss of momentum allowed Wyndburgh back into the race and there was only a length and half separating them at the line.

Following retirement from the saddle in 1966, he turned his attention to training and sent out Charles Dickens to finish third behind Red Rum in the 1974 Grand National.

Scudamore, who died in July aged 81, hailed from one of the most famous dynasties in racing. His father Geoffrey was a point-to-point trainer and amateur jockey, while his son Peter was champion Jump jockey on eight occasions. His grandsons are jockey Tom and Michael junior, who took over the trainer’s licence at his grandfather’s Herefordshire yard in 2008.

Michael junior saddled the Welsh Grand National winner Monbeg Dude in January, 2013, with the same horse going on to take seventh in the 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National. Tom is close to equalling his grandfather’s number of appearances in the Grand National, having notched up 13 rides but the closest he has finished yet is eighth.

Dessie Hughes was a regular at Aintree both as a jockey and as a trainer.

The Irishman’s greatest successes as a rider came aboard the outstanding hurdler Monksfield, who landed the Aintree Hurdle for three consecutive years (1977, 1978 and 1978). The 1977 victory, the race which preceded Red Rum’s record-breaking third Grand National victory, was one of the most memorable hurdle contests of all time as Monksfield dead-heated with his great rival Night Nurse.

In the Grand National that year, Hughes partnered the well-supported Davy Lad, who had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his previous start, but the partnership got no further than the third fence.

His son Richard is also a jockey but on the Flat and has taken the champion jockey title in Britain for the last three years – 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Hughes, who died in November at the age of 71, came closest to winning the Grand National as a trainer when Black Apalachi gained the runner-up spot in 2010. His 12th and final Grand National runner, Raz De Maree, finished eighth in 2014.

Sandra Hughes, his daughter, has taken over responsibility for training the horses at Osborne Lodge on the Curragh.

Sir Eric Parker saw his silks carried to success in the 1991 Grand National on New Zealand-bred Seagram, part-owned and trained by David Barons in Devon and ridden by Nigel Hawke. The owner, who died aged 81 in August, 2014, had a lifelong interest in racing.

He started out in business as an accountant and joined real estate and engineering conglomerate Trafalgar House in 1965, progressing to finance director in 1969, managing director in 1977 and chief executive from 1982 to 1991. Knighted in 1991, Parker was a successful owner/breeder from Crimbourne Stud in West Sussex.

He had a long involvement in racing politics, being on the council of the Racehorse Owners Association for many years and was president of that organisation from 1998 to 2001, as well a board member of the Tote and National Stud.

A familiar face and voice to millions over many years was Julian Wilson, an integral part of the BBC’s Grand National coverage. Wilson passed away aged 73 shortly after the 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National.

He worked as racing correspondent for the BBC from 1966 to 1997 and both fronted the BBC TV coverage and undertook commentating duties including as part of the team covering the Grand National.

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