The latest of 13 mares to win the Randox Health Grand National was Nickel Coin, who took the honours in the world famous race by six lengths from Royal Tan 67 years ago.
Nickel Coin, with a starting price of 40/1 and one of only three horses to complete the course in 1951, started out in life as a nervous youngster and was therefore brought along steadily with hunting and show jumping.
At Aintree, the nine-year-old Nickel Coin carried the colours of Surrey farmer Jeffrey Royle and was partnered to victory by former paratrooper and prisoner of war Johnny Bullock.
From Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, it was only Nickel Coin and Royal Tan who were in contention.
The Vincent O’Brien-trained Royal Tan, who would go on to win the 1954 Grand National, looked to be travelling the better approaching the final fence but he blundered badly, allowing Nickel Coin to take the advantage and the mare stayed on resolutely up the famous Aintree run-in.
Following her Aintree success, Nickel Coin was retired and went on to produce three foals.
Her trainer Jack O’Donoghue noted after her Aintree victory that the success was down to the number 29 – his birthday was on 19th July, he had moved to England in 1929, his house was number 29 and Nickel Coin’s number in the 1951 Grand National was 29!
O’Donoghue continued to train successfully at Reigate, close to Epsom Downs, for many years and by his retirement in 1996 was Britain’s oldest trainer at the age of 88.
Nickel Coin was the 13th mare in total to win the Randox Health Grand National and the third to do so in the 20th century, following Shannon Lass (1902) and Sheila’s Cottage (1948).
Charity (1841) was the first mare to win the Grand National, while the 10 successful females in the 19th century included Emblem (1863) and Emblematic (1864), who were full sisters remarkably.
The 21st century is still awaiting its first mare to succeed, with the last mare to be placed being Dubacilla (fourth in 1995), while Ebony Jane was also fourth in 1994 and Auntie Dot finished third in 1991.
A Race for Fillies and Mares
Since 2005, a bumper (a National Hunt Flat race) for fillies and mares has been staged on Grand National Thursday so as to encourage more female horses to develop racing careers.
This contest was boosted to Listed level in 2013 and run in honour of Nickel Coin, reflecting her position in Grand National history.
In 2016, the Nickel Coin race was further upgraded to Grade Two status and sponsored by bloodstock auctioneering company Goffs, which holds a sale at Aintree after racing on Grand National Thursday.
Probably the best winner of the Goffs Nickel Coin race so far has been Carole’s Legacy in 2008, who went on to finish runner-up in the G1 Betway Bowl over fences on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in 2011.
Grand National Thursday
From 1977 onwards, when the Grand National Festival became an all-Jump meeting, Grand National Thursday has developed into an outstanding day of racing action, a true Day for Champions.
It is only one of three racedays during the entire British Jump season to offer four Grade One (G1) contests.
Uniquely, Grand National Thursday is the only day of the year with two open G1 races and two G1 contests for novices.
The G1 chase action on Grand National Thursday is headlined by the Betway Bowl, staged over three miles and a furlong of the Mildmay Course.
The fabulous roll of honour boasts the names of some of the very best chasers of the modern era with Wayward Lad, Desert Orchid, See More Business, Florida Pearl, Siliviniaco Conti and Cue Card all having been successful.
Lizzie Kelly created history in 2017 when becoming the first female jockey to win the Betway Bowl aboard Tea For Two.
The G1 Betway Aintree Hurdle moved to Grand National Thursday in 2013, having previously been on Grand National Day. The race is the only British G1 open hurdle run over the distance of two and a half miles.
First staged in 1975, it has proved to be the perfect follow-up for horses who have won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
In 2017, Buveur D’Air joined great performers Annie Power, Jezki, Istabraq, Morley Street, Beech Road, Dawn Run, Gaye Brief, Monksfield, Night Nurse and Comedy Of Errors by winning both the Champion Hurdle and the Betway Aintree Hurdle.
Often regarded as the greatest hurdle race of all-time, the 1977 renewal of the Betway Aintree Hurdle saw a dead-heat between Monksfield and Night Nurse, both dual winners of the Champion Hurdle.
The G1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle over two miles and a furlong is the natural next target for horses who competed in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Last season Defi Du Seuil followed in the footsteps of Pollardstown, Detroit City, Katchit and Zarkandar by winning both the JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle.
Racegoers also get an opportunity to see racing over the Grand National fences for the first time at the meeting, with the two mile, five furlong Randox Health Fox Hunters’ Chase taking place on Grand National Thursday.
Restricted to horses who have run in point-to-points and hunter chases and ridden by amateur riders, the Randox Health Fox Hunters’ Chase is a good race for multiple winners, with Katarino (2005 & 2006) and On The Fringe (2015 & 2016) both having scored twice since the turn of the century.
Ultra-competitive handicap action comes courtesy of the two-mile G3 Betway Red Rum Handicap Chase which commemorates the legendary three-time Grand National winner Red Rum.
To sum up, Grand National Thursday is a day to savour, with racing of the highest class, led by four G1 contests plus a G2 race, a G3 event and the Randox Health Fox Hunters’ Chase over the Grand National course.
A Day for Champions
The evolving success of Grand National Thursday – A Day for Champions – is demonstrated by its growing popularity. During the 1980s, the attendance was below the 10,000 mark but has risen substantially, with the crowd figure now around 35,000.
Grand National Thursday on 12th April 2018 includes a Champions of Merseyside dimension, with a number of sporting champions involved in celebrating the best of Merseyside sport at all levels and all ages. There will also be a military theme, with Aintree helping the RAF celebrate their Centenary Year in style.
Aintree’s Preview Night returns on Wednesday 11th April and features 2015 Grand National winning trainer, Oliver Sherwood, the most successful female jockey in the Grand National, Katie Walsh, and two other racing giants to be announced.