The Grand National is the biggest race in the British calendar and claiming victory represents the pinnacle of many trainers’ careers. It requires putting forward a horse blessed with a phenomenal amount of grit, determination and stamina, as the course is epic and perilous in equal measures. It comes with a prize purse of £1 million, making it Europe’s richest race, and it attracts hundreds of millions of viewers, so it is a great opportunity to shine. The prestige associated with winning the race is also enormous. So which trainer has enjoyed the most success at the Grand National over the years?
Well, it is actually a tie, as there are three trainers that have each secured victory on four different occasions. The race began in 1839 at Aintree in Merseyside and it attracted 17 runners. Queen Victoria was on the throne, the Whigs were in power and horseracing was very much in its infancy. Lottery went off as the fourth favourite at 9/1 and he took the lead on the second circuit at First Brook, a lead he held onto until the finish, winning by three lengths. Trainer George Dockeray, a former Ascot Gold Cup winning jockey, was triumphant. The following year he saddled Jerry, who beat Lottery – a faller – and favourite The Nun to win the race, making it two out of two for Dockeray.
Charity took the 1841 renewal for William Vevers and Lord Craven, but Dockeray was back with a vengeance the following year. This time he saddled Gaylad, who beat stablemate Lottery and Peter Simple to win the 1842 race, making it three out of four for Dockeray. He had to wait a decade for his next victory, but he remained patient and it paid off when Miss Mowbray handed him his fourth win in 1852.
Dockeray died in 1857 and his record still stands to this day. Nobody matched him for more than a century, but Fred Rimmel pulled off four wins between 1956 and 1976. Rimmell was another former jockey and he went on to become the first trainer to earn £1 million in prize money for his owners. He also earned the nickname Mr Grand National as a result of his prowess in the Aintree showpiece, and his journey began in bizarre fashion in the 1956 National.
The Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch, was the heavy favourite and he justified that status by opening up a five-length lead in the run-in to the finishing post. But then Devon Loch inexplicably jumped in the air and belly flopped to the turf. Jockey Dick Francis tried to rouse him, but was unsuccessful and Rimmel’s E.S.B. overtook him and secured victory. Five years later the trainer tasted more success when Nicolaus Silver defied odds of 28/1 to become the first grey to win the race in 90 years. It took another nine years before Rimmel secured more glory. In 1970, Gay Trip carried top weight but did not seem unduly bothered as he romped to a 20-length victory. Rimmel picked up his fourth and final win in 1976, when his 14/1 shot Rag Trade beat the legendary Red Rum to land the race.
By that time, Ginger McCain already had two wins under his belt, and Red Rum had claimed both of them. In 1973, the superstar chaser was 15 lengths behind Crisp after the final hurdle, but produced a stunning burst of energy to overhaul his rival and win by three-quarters of a length. It is widely considered the greatest Grand National in history. He carried top weight the following year but still won, and then went on to win the Scottish Grand National, becoming the only horse to claim both races in the same year. Red Rum was always burdened with top weight and he finished second in 1975 and then second again to Rag Trade in 1976. But in 1977 he cemented his greatness by completing a Grand National hat-trick aged 12 in what is ranked as one of the greatest sporting moments in British history. Remarkably, after 27 years without a victory, McCain picked up a fourth win to move level with Dockeray and Rimmel when Amberleigh House won the 2004 renewal.
A few trainers have won three races, but nobody has come close to matching that trio in recent years. Of the current crop, Nigel Twiston-Davies leads the way with two wins - Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree in 2002. Leading lights such as Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Paul Nicholls have only managed one victory, illustrating just how difficult this race is to win. Star trainers such as Nicky Henderson and Dan Skelton have never won this race, so for Twiston-Davies to claim two victories is a great achievement. If you take a look at the horse racing spread betting, you will see that Twiston-Davies saddles one of the leading contenders for this year's race in Blaklion, who finished seventh in 2016 and sixth last year, so he could be moving up to three, and then the McCain-Rimmel-Dockeray record would be within his sights.