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12 Mar 2014

The Grand National’s greatest trainers

We’re just a few weeks away from the world’s greatest horse race when another horse, jockey, owner and trainer will have their name etched on the history of the National forever. The UK public will be betting multi-millions on the race, as ever, but perhaps it’s wisest to start with the trainers?

Because whilst it takes a whole team of people in different roles to guide the horse over the winning line, it’s surely the trainer that is the single most important factor.

There are some trainers whose names will forever be inextricably linked with the National – like the late Ginger Mc Cain, of course; trainer of Red Rum and 2004 winner Amberleigh House – and father of Donald McCain who also enjoyed success with Ballabriggs in 2011.
Perhaps the most amazing feat of any single National trainer, though, was that of the late Vincent O’Brien who – during the 1950s – trained three consecutive Grand National winners, each a different horse. He trained Early Mist in 1953, Royal Tan in 1954 and Quare Times the following year.

Of course, Vincent O’Brien went on to even greater international acclaim on the flat, but his Grand National feat will surely never be matched?

The honour of the most successful ever Grand National trainer, though, goes to the late Fred Rimell (1913-1981) who managed to saddle four different winners between 1956 and 1976. Fred’s first winner was E.S.B. in 1956. This was the horse which looked all over the runner up until the Dick Francis-ridden Devon Loch famously sprawled on all fours yards from the line. He also trained the grey Nicolaus Silver in 1961, Gay Trip in 1970 and Rag Trade in 1976, who just got up to beat Red Rum from whom Rag Trade was getting a massive 12lb pull in the handicap.

Of course, we mustn’t forget Jenny Pitman the first ever female trainer to train a National winner with Corbiere in 1983 – a feat Jenny managed to repeat 12 years later with Royal Athlete. She also came agonisingly close to winning the National with Garrison Savannah on 1991 (ridden by her son Mark) who had won the Gold Cup just three weeks earlier. Had Garrison Savannah won, he would have been only the second horse ever to win the two big races in one year - the other being the great Golden Miller back in 1934.

Jenny’s Esha Ness was also first over the finishing line in the National that never was in 1993 – when the race was cancelled after two false starts – though several riders didn’t realise and completed the whole course.

In more recent years, NigelTwiston-Davies has trained two winners with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree, the 2002 winner – and this year saddles longshot Same Difference – currently a 33-1 shot. He’s the most likely of the current crop of trainers to get his name in the history books three times, though seven-time Champion trainer Paul Nicholls already has one National winner to his credit with 2012 winner Neptune Collonges.