Wednesday 15 August 2018

Grand National 1980 Winner: It’s Heavy Going for Ben Nevis at 40/1

Ben Nevis had the distinction of being just the third U.S.-based horse, after Battleship in 1938 and Jay Trump in 1965, to win the Grand National. He was bred in Britain, where he raced, unsuccessfully, until bought by Redmond C. Stewart Jnr. and shipped to the United States, as a 6-year-old, in 1974. Under the auspices of Stewart’s son-in-law, Charlie Fenwick Jnr., who both trained and rode him, Ben Nevis won seven successive races. His victories included back-to-back victories in the Maryland Hunt Cup – a demanding American steeplechase, run over 4 miles and 22 of what Time Magazine once described as “timber fences with the top rail securely nailed down” – in 1977 and 1978.

In 1979, Ben Nevis was transferred to Captain Tim Forster, in Letcombe Bassett, near Lambourn, with a view to running in the Grand National, in which he would be ridden by Charlie Fenwick Jnr. That he did, but was brought down in a melee at the Chair and, although remounted, was pulled up at the end of the first circuit.

He returned to Aintree for the Grand National the following year but, as a 12-year-old, yet to win a race of any description in Britain, his chance was less than obvious. Mike Strong of the Daily Mirror was dismissive in his appraisal of Ben Nevis, writing “Remounted after being brought down at the fifteenth last year, but was pulled up at the next. Rather disappointing this season.” Captain Tim Forster, renowned for his affectionate, but gloomy, outlook, was no more optimistic; his instructions to Charlie Fenwick were simply “Keep remounting”.

Unsurprisingly, Ben Nevis was sent off a largely unconsidered 40/1 chance but, in treacherous conditions – described by Fred Rimmell as the worst he had known for the National – was just one of four horses, from 30 starters, to survive unscathed. Unexpectedly adapting very well to the bottomless ground, he was left with a commanding advantage when the previous leader, Delmoss, came to a cropper at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. He was still 15 lengths clear of his nearest pursuer, Rough And Tumble, turning for home and, although his advantage was down to 4 lengths at the final fence, he drew away from his toiling rival on the run-in to win, unchallenged, by 20 lengths. The Pilgarlic finished third and Royal Stuart fourth and last. 

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