Friday 27 July 2018

Grand National 1997: Lord Gyllene

No-one will forget the year in which Lord Gyllene won the Grand National although, in the furore surrounding what became known as the “Monday National”, the horse himself hasn’t always received the credit he deserved for an outstanding performance in the historic steeplechase. One of the reasons that Lord Gyllene faded from public consciousness was, perhaps, that he was off the course for 614 days following his National win and ran just twice, without distinction, before his eventual retirement in 2001. 

However, it’s worth remembering that, as an eight-year-old, the New Zealand-bred won the 1997 Grand National by 25 lengths – the widest winning margin since Red Rum in 1977 – and barely gave his supporters an anxious moment. The Aintree fences, many of which feature a drop on the landing side, often catch out horses who jump “big”, but not so Lord Gyllene, who jumped impeccably at the head of affairs for nearly two full circuits of the vast National Course. That said, he was nearly carried out beyond the wings of the water jump at the end of the first circuit when impeded by a loose horse –much to the alarm of BBC commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan – but was straightened out in the nick of time to avoid catastrophe.

Owned by the late Sir Stanley Clarke, Clerk of the Course at Uttoxeter Racecourse, and trained by Steve Brookshaw who, at the time, was in just his second season as a National Hunt trainer, Lord Gyllene had won the Singer & Friedland National Trial at the West Midlands course on his penultimate start before Aintree. He had subsequently looked a little jaded when only second in the Midlands Grand National, over the same course and distance, the following month, but was nevertheless sent off at 14/1 co-fifth favourite of four for the Grand National proper. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Ridden by Tony Dobbin, Lord Gyllene drew clear in the closing stages and won looking like he could happily go ‘round again. Sir Peter O’Sullevan called it a “fantastic performance of jumping” and few who were at Aintree that day would argue that it was. Suny Bay finished a creditable second, albeit beaten 25 lengths, with Camelot Knight 2 lengths further back in third. Trainer Steve Brookshaw later reflected on his victory, saying, “It was my fifteen minutes of fame; the biggest day of my life.”

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