The biggest upsets in the Grand National

The 2024 Grand National is just around the corner as betting punters and horse racing enthusiasts alike focus on Aintree for one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar. Steeped in history, tradition and class, the National represents the elite pedigree of horse racing and is a true test of skill for those looking to write their name in the history books, with Merseyside’s Aintree course one of the toughest to navigate due to the plethora of challenging fences. The visibility for the sport provided by Aintree stimulates interest at places like Stratford.

Last year saw a dominant display from favourite Corach Rambler, who cruised to victory in a performance that ensured the protestors’ pre-race shenanigans didn’t overshadow the festivities. Indeed, the forced restart if anything benefited Derek Fox, who joins an exclusive list of multiple National winners, navigating One For Arthur in 2017 before the victory on the Rambler.

Fox will be hoping to retain his title in this year’s event, coming in at 5/1 in antepost odds but the likes of Vanillier and Willie Mullins-trained I Am Maximus are other fancied shots.

The National is so unique in that the fences make even the best in the world of jumps have to think about their approach, and the race’s unpredictability ensures an upset is always on the cards. The form book can sometimes go completely out of the window once the race starts, and other variables like conditions and weather mean an underdog can always have its day. Ground conditions have always been a factor in producing unexpected results.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some outsiders who defied the odds and caused some of the biggest upsets in the history of the Grand National.

Aurora’s Encore – 2013

Ryan Mania has established himself as one of the best jockeys of the modern era, but few knew his name until he got aboard Aurora’s Encore, who shot to success in 2013 at odds of 66/1 to see off competition from Cappa Bleu to win by nine lengths. The  bay gelding, trained by Sue Smith, defied the odds after transitioning to steeplechasing, and while he had a good record in novice races at Sedgefield, Carlisle, and Ayr, few would have imagined he would be this dominant on the grandest stage of them all.

Mon Mome – 2009

For just the second time in history a horse had won at odds of over 100/1. This is the story of Mon Mome’s massive achievement in 2009. You’d have to go back as far as 1967 to Foinavon for the last time anyone had picked up a result as spectacular as this, and Venetia Williams became the second woman trainer to win race as Mon Mome saw off defending champion and 8/1 favourite Comply Or Die, to the surprise of the trainer and even the best Grand National betting offers.

“It’s an absolutely unbelievable finish, I had the perfect run through the race, he jumped brilliantly for me,” said rider Liam Treadwell, tragically to take his own life some time later.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet, all I can say at this moment in time is it is unbelievable. A couple of times loose horses fell upsides me and went under his legs but it didn’t really affect the horse.

“He gave me such a great ride. He was an absolute pleasure to ride. He is so genuine. I had a quick look round but I wasn’t really sure how far in front I was.”

Last Suspect – 1985

They say age is just a number, and while there have been some young winners of the Grand National, Last Suspect was believed to be past his peak when he picked up victory in the 1985 edition of the race. The Duchess of Westminster – owned thoroughbred had pulled up at Warwick and wasn’t given much of a chance heading to Aintree, yet managed to win by one and a half lengths, using its unconventional style and powerful running to finish in front of Mr Snugfit.

The winner was owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, and trained by Tim Forster, whose riding instructions to jockey Hywel Davies were “keep remounting”! Unable to recapture that same spark the following year, an almost 13-year-old Last Suspect barely making weight and pulling up at the 18th, but his victory in the 1985 National will always have its own place in history.

Foinavon – 1967

Only the keenest racegoers had heard of Johnny Buckingham before the 1967 Grand National. A journeyman jockey, he was on the unfancied Foinavon, a rank outsider in the 1967 National for his first ever ride in the race.

Foinavon had been the intended moun t of his trainer John Kempton, but he couldn’t make the weight. Buckingham was his third choice rider, booked just 3 days before the world’s greatest steeplechase.

A pile-up initiated by a riderless horse at the fence after Becher’s on the second circuit allowed Buckingham to steer around the outside of the trouble. Virtually the entire field was halted in its tracks, allowing him to build a 30l lead with just 7 fences left.

The rest is history… Johnny Buck’s place in history was assured, with a 100/1 winner so unfancied neither his owner nor trainer had bothered to turn up at Aintree. Buckingham went on to make a successful career as a jockey’s valet.

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