Thursday 16 May 2024

1968 Red Alligator Shows His Teeth to Rivals

The 1968’s event marked the 122nd staging of the Grand National equestrian race that occurred at Aintree Racecourse, a few miles away from Liverpool in England. According to detailed archival records, the lively occasion took place on the 30th of March…and was won by Red Alligator by a legendary 20 lengths – one of the most resounding victory margins in the entire history of the centuries-old gaming meet. 

The teeth-brandishing Alligator was adeptly steered to the aforementioned historic triumph by the unflinching Brian Fletcher. The same champion jockey would again propel Red Rum to typically picture-perfect exploits in the 1973 and 1974 Nationals. 

The most conspicuous participator was Tim Durant, atop Highlandie – the oldest rider to ever successfully complete the Aintree circuit at 68 years of age! 

It was an also exhilarating victory for the 9-year-old horse …a comparatively tender age for a winner in such a noteworthy international competition. The young victor was owned by one fella named Mr J. Manners, a comparably less known horse handler of little regional fame. 

The successful contester had been trained by one Denys Smith of Durham County. Denys did not expect his marvellous prodigy to bring him such exemplary honours. He however later confided to journalists that he knew his modest protégé to be a petite beast of immense ability and firm discipline. 

Placed at the impossible odds of 100/7, it had been clearly indicated that not many locals and global sports fans anticipated the pair’s record-breaking performance. Another astonishing aspect to the whole victorious mix was the fact that Brian Fletcher was only 19 years at the time he achieved this spectacular feat. 

As grateful racing history shows, Brian would go ahead to clinch equally stunning exploits a couple of years later. For instance, t6he same rider steered the variously honoured Red Rum to a picture-perfect victory – a maiden success for the then still-inexperienced galloper…duplicating the same feat not many years later, to give the now-well-known sprinter the indelible intercontinental fame we know today. 

Denys Smith – the colourful event’s winning trainer – died in November 2016 aged 92, and with an elegant racing record to his name. Operating from his renowned base in Bishop Auckland in County Durham, the lately-fallen sporting hero gave the racing world more 1,600 winning horses from his famous stables. What made him an especially remarkable equestrian dealer was that he issued great gallopers for both flat and jump racing events.

Derek Thompson, a longstanding assistant to the unbeatable Smith of the 1968 Grand National fame, averred that his boss was one of the finest sporting icons in the whole of the English equine-gaming fraternity…and that he was really lucky to have had the chance to serve as his assistant at the Bishop Auckland training premises. 

Red Alligator had emerged third in the previous year’s National version. He also had been tipped as a top favourite in 1969 but he succumbed to encumbrances at the nineteenth fence. Owned by the not-very-well-known James Manners, the triumphant rider had fruitlessly run for the grand title the previous year on the same runner…but his little chances were ruined by the so-called “Foinavon pile up”, someplace around the 23rd fence. 

Due to ensuing melee, the popular jockey remounted but was not able to reclaim the lost preliminary pace due to the ensuing mayhem – finishing third to Foinavon. The greatly endowed horse was said to have been taken to the stalls for prescriptive drugging and did not achieve any record really close to his earlier Aintree glory of the preceding year. 

The ensuing general lack of success notwithstanding, the horse’s 1968 victory was grandly commemorated by a local brewing giant - where trainer Denys Smith had been a passably honoured patron of longstanding…naming the drinking joint after the admired equine instructor. 

And as a lasting testament that endures to this, you’ll find therein the trainer and winning horse’s photos posted on whatever visible remains of the time-dulled walls of the olden beer-dispensing facility. 

Although Brian Fletcher’s gallant attainment in the year’s Aintree clash is a feat of no mean repute, posterity will best remember him for more vivacious accomplishments in 1973 and 1974…. when the incisive man of horses piloted Red Rum to immortalize his name with two consecutive Grand National titles. His performance in the 1975 National didn’t fall short of lasting accolades, too.