Tuesday 2 April 2019

1967 Foinavon Wins Grand National at Odds of 100/1

Held on 8 April, the 1967 Grand National became the 121st staging of the renowned Grand National steeplechase at Aintree Racecourse, close to England’s Liverpool area. While archival details of the preceding and succeeding Nationals remain scanty, this one remains toweringly popular simply because it was won by a rank outsider at the dismal odds of 100/1. 

As luck would rarely have it, Foinavon happened to be the only horse to successfully outmanoeuvre a pace-crippling melee at the twenty-third fence… bagging the year’s Grand National jackpot. 

Going by a booming voice record of commentator Michael O’Hehir detailing the infamous 23rd-fence chaos of 1967, the winner wasn’t anywhere close to victory initially. First to be hampered by the hellish mayhem was Rutherfords, then Castle Falls and Rondetto. Third to suffer was Princeful, followed by Norther and Kirtle Lad and Fossa and everyone else…till Foinavon went off on his own – easily winning the momentous race. 

Owing to the ensuing ill turn of events, all of the earlier stages of the clash was inconsequential, although 28 out of the enrolled 44 contesters rushed safely past the 22nd fence. There was however a notable fatality that took place at the third, in which Vulcano got mortally injured and later euthanized. 

Popham Down, a notorious runner who had given dreadful hints by unseating his rider at the opening fence, was the cause of all these wide-ranging misadventures. Veering rather dramatically toward his right-hand side at the fateful fence, he slammed Rutherfords out of place and pace, unseating Jockey Johnny Leech. 

A chaotic pileup arose and within few seconds, the rest were caught up in the unfolding pandemonium. It was utterly impossible for previous trailblazers to jump over the disaster-prone fence and the melee brought the entire showdown to a near halt. The final champ was the luckiest horse in entire clutter – upsetting all betters’ fortunes and giving lucky bookmakers an instant reason to smile all the way to the bank. 

It was as such an unbelievably fortunate coincidence for the outright undistinguished Foinavon to clinch the year’s loftiest accolades, despite his being the slowest horse in the whole contest. BBC’s commentator’s shrieks of sheer wonderment split the air as the fluking galloper sprinted toward the finishing line, well over 100 yards ahead of the chaotic pileup behind. 

Foinavon’s owner had travelled to Worcester on the very racing day, and didn’t expect to receive any inspiring news from Aintree. And as the actual running began and entered the troubled fence, the slow-moving galloper was so much behind such that jockey John Buckingham had sufficient time to skirt around the growing tumult.

Being the only horse to safely go over the 23rd fence, Buckingham was taken aback to find himself enjoying a whopping 30 lengths lead. And while 17 of the fallen pairs remounted successfully to give him considerable chase, none was able to catch up with the lucky duo, who dashed past the finishing line with a 15-length winning margin. Josh Gifford, a leading favorite from the outset, pursued the luck-enabled champion with relentless fury but just couldn’t cover the distance between them quickly enough. 

After the surprising developments, Michael O’Hehir opined that Becher’s Brook and the Valentine’s – such strangely luck-bringing obstacles – might one day come to be renamed Foinavon. And quite strangely, in 1984, a bunch of Aintree executives renamed the fence Foinavon fence. 

The horse had been turned down by three jockeys, terming him a poor nonstarter with infinitesimal chances of success. Even the ultimate jackpot-winning Buckingham seems to have unenthusiastically opted for the unpromising choice for want of better mounts. 

The second place went to most hardworking chaser after the luck-favoured winner, Josh Gifford and Honey End. The third rank was grabbed by Brian Fletcher’s Red Alligator, then aged 10 years. The fourth and the fifth slots went to the Greek Scholar/Terry Biddlecombe and Packed Home/Tommy Carberry pairs respectively. 

Elsewhere, 1967 doubled up as the first year when Red Rum first appeared at Aintree, aged only 2 years…and in a 5-furlong sprint, held a day before the National event. The then debuting mount would visit the same grounds for his unprecedented 3rd Grand National title ten years later.