Thursday 26 April 2018

Pipe and the Package may deliver the goods

Damien McElroy

The romance and appeal of the Grand National has endured since the world's best-known race was launched as a mere £100 level-weights event for gentleman riders over four miles at Aintree on Tuesday, February 26, 1839.

That afternoon an estimated 50,000 spectators, many on horseback, had forked out seven shillings a ticket to watch 17 horses set out over 29 jumps that included three brooks and a five-foot stone wall in front of the stands.

History records that the prize went to Mr Elmore's appropriately-named 5/1 chance Lottery, a nine-year-old ridden by Jem Mason.

But that poor horse was anchored in 1841 and 1842 by a massive 18lb penalty for winning the Cheltenham Steeplechase!

No doubt that scenario prompted the four local gentry promoting the contest to change the race to a handicap in 1843, while the infamous stone wall was replaced by an artificial water jump two years later.

Less than 50 years later, the entire Aintree course, complete with a splendid turf track replacing ploughland, had been railed in and the marathon race now worth £2,000 was thriving.

But after the 1915 National, the First World War intervened and a pale imitation of the Aintree spectacular was run for three years down the road at Gatwick, where Liverpool's John Lennon airport is now sited.

The last of Gatwick's substitute races was won by Poethlyn, in the hands of Lester Piggott's grandfather Ernie and they defied 12-7 when the great race resumed at Aintree in 1919.

Friday renewals were becoming the norm and in 1928 the 20-runner field was led home by Tipperary Tim, forever to be remembered as the very first victor returned at 100/1.

A year later there were an incredible 66 starters and a staggering crowd of 300,000 present to witness Gregalach replicate that victory at the same odds.

Dorothy Paget's legendary Golden Miller, winner of an unprecedented five successive Gold Cups (1932-'36), defied 12-2 when completing a unique Cheltenham-Aintree double at 8/1 in 1934.

But the era of 100/1 winners was far from over as Dublin jeweller Jack McDowell's Caughoo emerged in front of a mist-shrouded field of 57 in 1947.

And 20 years later, ex-Irish Foinavon was the only horse in the 44-runner race to clear the fence since named in his honour at the first attempt.

That brings us right up to the current era with that fifth 100/1 dream outcome for the bookmakers 12 months ago, courtesy of the Venetia Williams-trained Mon Mome -- which is only a fraction of that price this afternoon.

That major contraction in the 10-year-old's odds has been prompted both by his fine exhibition of jumping last year and strong finish to claim third place behind Imperial Commander in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month.

Whether the stamina-laden French import would have hit the target last April had Irish raider Black Apalachi not keeled over at Becher's Brook second time round when still dictating the pace is open to question.

Perhaps the torch will be passed on today however to a much less-exposed rival and David Pipe's youngster The Package, which rattled the crossbar at Cheltenham behind Chief Dan George, could fit the bill.

Irish Independent

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