First Grand National
Racing writers have reached a consensus that the 1839 race should be regarded as the first official running of the Grand National, though it only gained that name in 1847, and a variant of it had been held at Aintree in 1836 (when the winning jockey was Captain Martin Becher of Becher’s Brook fame), before a brief switch to a course at nearby Maghull.
That 1836 race, and indeed Aintree Racecourse, was the brainchild of William Lynn, who ran the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool – the same sporting gentleman devising the Waterloo Cup hare coursing event. By 1839 Lynn’s finances and health were in poor order, but there was no shortage of prestigious names to fill places on the organising committee – Lord Stanley and the Earl of Derby among them.
Nor were entries lacking for this Grand Liverpool Steeplechase – a few days before some 50 potential runners listed, though on the day only 17 runners started the supposedly four mile course over both open country and the racecourse, a cross between a modern steeplechase and a point-to-point. A creditable 10 finished. Fittingly the winner was Lottery, whose price was either a very short 5-1 or a rather better 9-1 depending on your source (it may have been both, offered by different bookies). The jockey was Jem Mason, who brought his mount in three lengths clear of the second placed horse.
The 1839 running saw the first fatality in the event: Dictator, who burst a blood vessel. It also witnessed the fall that gave Becher’s Brook its name: Captain Becher was unseated at the tricky fence, and dived into the ditch beneath it to avoid being trampled; when he emerged he quipped he hadn’t realised how vile water tastes without whisky in it.
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