Amateur riders are able to participate in plenty of jump races but must have won at least 15 chases or hurdle races to guarantee a place in the John Smith’s Grand National and the other races over the Grand National fences except the Fox Hunters’ in which an amateur category B licence is sufficient.
However, if early dispensation is sought from the British Horseracing Authority, riders of 10 such winners can be allowed to take part in the John Smith’s Grand National and the John Smith’s Topham Chase.
Non-professional jockeys have won 41 of the 163 runnings of the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree but both their representation and rate of success have slipped back in recent years. There were 27 successes for amateurs in the nineteenth century, as against 14 during the last century, with nine before 1940 and five after 1945.
The first victory for an amateur rider came in1840 when Mr Bretherton won on Jerry, while Jack Anthony captured the Grand National on three occasions – in 1911 on Glenside, in 1915 on Ally Sloper and then in 1920 on Troytown. Most recently, Marcus Armytage, a racing journalist with The Daily Telegraph, succeeded in the 1990 Grand National on Mr Frisk in record time.
Chris Bonner has since finished in the frame in two runnings (1996, fourth on Sir Peter Lely, and 1995, third on Over The Deel). The oldest Grand National-winning jockey was an amateur rider – Dick Saunders succeeded at the age of 48 on Grittar in 1982 on his first and only attempt, while 54-year-old grandfather John Thorne finished second on Spartan Missile the year before.
Another grandfather, 68-year-old American Tim Durant got round in 15th place on Highlandie in 1968 after remounting at the second Becher’s, thus becoming the oldest rider to get around on his third successive attempt.
No amateur riders competed in either the 1999 or 2000 Grand Nationals. Tom Scudamore, who subsequently turned professional on October 4, 2001, was unseated from the Martin Pipe-trained Northern Starlight at Becher’s Brook the first time around during the 2001 renewal.
There was no amateur participation in the following year’s race, while three gained mounts in 2003. Jamie Moore (who later turned professional) did best of the trio, finishing 13th on the Martin Pipe-trained Royal Predica. French doctor Patrick Pailhes was less successful on Empereur River, trained in France by Jacques Ortet, pulling up before Becher’s second time around. Larry McGrath was unshipped from the Norman Mason-owned Red Striker four fences from home.
Amateurs were absent in 2004 but David Dunsdon partnered his own Joly Bey to 14th place the next year and Tom Greenall followed a family tradition when he lined up aboard Glenelly Gale owned by his father Lord Daresbury. The pair raced prominently throughout and made most of the running on the first circuit before Greenall pulled up his weary mount three from home.
Lord Daresbury – twice leading amateur in the 1970s as the Honourable Peter Greenall – is the chairman of Aintree Racecourse and was himself a winner over the Grand National fences aboard Lone Soldier in the 1982 John Smith’s Fox Hunters’, a race which his son also won aboard Trust Fund in 2009.
The only amateur rider in the 2006 John Smith’s Grand National was Ireland’s Nina Carberry who finished ninth and last on Forest Gunner.
Amateur involvement shot up to three in 2007. Liberthine, partnered by 23-year-old Sam Waley-Cohen, aimed to become the first mare to succeed since Nickel Coin in 1951. Liberthine came into the Grand National with rock solid credentials, having gained success over the same fences in the 2006 John Smith’s Topham Chase. The mare had appeared to have run her last race then and she was retired at the end of the 2005/06 season to be covered by Poliglote in France. Unfortunately, she slipped her foal sometime between testing in foal and shipping back. As a result, it was decided to put her back into training at Nicky Henderson’s Lambourn yard with the John Smith’s Grand National as the target.
Waley-Cohen had hoped to ride the mare in the 2006 John Smith’s Grand National but he had partnered less than 15 winners under Rules. Prior to his victory in the 2006 John Smith’s Topham Chase, Waley-Cohen, despite numerous wins in the point-to-point field, had only enjoyed eight winners under Rules.
The provision about winners had been introduced to keep out of the National those amateurs who did not have the necessary experience. But Waley-Cohen’s successes on Liberthine at Aintree and at Cheltenham in the 2005 Mildmay of Flete Chase had both come against professional jockeys. In addition, his record over the National course was something that any jockey would be proud of. It included back-to-back victories aboard his father’s Katarino in the 2005 and 2006 John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase.
The amateur rider won both the races over the Grand National fences outside the big race at the John Smith’s Grand National meeting in April, 2006, something which had never before been achieved. This meant his record over the daunting fences before the 2007 John Smith’s Grand National was five ride, five completions and three victories.
The John Smith’s Grand National riding qualification was amended before the 2007 big race so that riders who had achieved 10 winners over hurdles and fences could apply to the British Horseracing Authority for special dispensation to participate in the John Smith’s Grand National.
This meant he lined up in the big race on Libertine in 2007 and they finished a gallant fifth. The other amateurs to participate in 2007 were the very experienced Irish rider JT McNamara, who was 11th on Clan Royal, and Tom Greenall who nearly got round on 150/1 chance Sonevafushi before pulling up at the second last.
Waley-Cohen has since gone on to further enhance his impressive CV as a jockey as he partnered his father’s Long Run to Grade One success in the Feltham Novices’ Chase in December, 2009, and the William Hill King George VI Chase in January, 2011, both at Kempton Park. He then became the first jockey since Jim Walton in 1981 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup (2011) as an amateur, once again aboard Long Run who is the first six-year-old to win the race since Mill House in 1963.
There was one amateur rider in 2008 – Nick Schofield who was twelfth on Cornish Sett for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. Schofield was crowned champion amateur at the end of the 2007/08 season with 20 wins and turned professional a month after riding in the John Smith’s Grand National. He has gone on to enjoy numerous successes for Nicholls and Andy Turnell, to whom he was appointed stable jockey in April, 2009.
Waley-Cohen was the only amateur to be involved in the 2009 John Smith’s Grand National but his good record over the fences was blotted when Ollie Magern, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, fell at the second. Both amateurs who lined up in last year’s John Smith’s Grand National completed the race. Sam Twiston-Davies, who had partnered Baby Run to win the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival the previous month, enjoyed a dream ride at the age of 17 when fifth on Hello Bud (pictured).
Twiston-Davies, son of dual Grand National-winning trainer Nigel, joined the paid ranks the following week and both he and Hello Bud enjoyed success over the Grand National fences when taking the totesport.com Becher Chase in November.
Nina Carberry emphasised what a good rider she is in the 2010 John Smith’s Grand National as she came home seventh on board Character Building, adding to her ninth place on Forest Gunner four years earlier from just two mounts in the race. She went on to win the Irish Grand National in 2011 aboard Organisedconfusion.
2011 saw the highest number of amateur riders to take part since 1990 with six contenders, of whom Sam Waley-Cohen nearly took the honours – coming second on Oscar Time.