The Grand National is often referred to as ‘The World’s Greatest Steeplechase’, such is the extent to which it is seen as one of the toughest jump racing events on the planet. Whilst the likes of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Festival that it takes place during may be concerned more ‘pure’ by discerning horse racing lovers, the National is the event that grips the nation each year that it rolls around.
The sheer difficulty of the race means that it’s noteworthy when a horse has been able to win it more than once, not least of all because the handicap nature of the event means that previous winners tend to carry more weight the year after the were successful. The horses that have been in the winner’s enclosure more than once, therefore, are well worthy of their place in the history books, which we’ll look at in more detail here.
Which Horses Have Won Two or More Grand Nationals?
Nine horses have won more than one Grand National. Red Rum is the only horse to win the race three times with Tiger Roll, Reynoldstown, Poethlyn, Manifesto, The Colonel, The Lamb, Peter Simple and Abd-El-Kader two-time winners.
In addition, The Duke won the first two runnings of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase which preceded the Grand National.
Multiple Grand National Winning Horses
At the time of writing, nine horses have won the Grand National more than once. That, though, is a matter of some debate, not least of all because a horse named The Duke won the race that would become the Grand National in 1836 and 1837, but only events from 1839 onwards are considered to be official National races. There’s also the fact that one of Poethlyn’s two wins came in a race not held at Aintree Racecourse.
Here’s a closer look at the horses that have taken Aintree by storm. We’ll look at them in date order of their wins, with an exception made for the horse that has won the race more than any other – Red Rum.
|1973||8||Ginger McCain||Brian Fletcher||10-5||9/1 JF|
|1974||9||Ginger McCain||Brian Fletcher||12-0||11/1|
|1977||12||Ginger McCain||Tommy Stack||11-8||9/1|
There are few horses as closely linked to a race as Red Rum is to the Grand National. The only horse to win both the English Grand National and the Scottish variation in the same year, Red Rum was born on the third of May in 1965. Though always associated with the city of Liverpool thanks to his success in the National, he was actually bred at Rossenarra, County Kilkenny, Ireland by Martyn McEnary.
Sired by Quorum to a dam named Mared, his named came about thanks to the last three letters of each name and not, as is often thought to be the case, because it spells ‘murder’ backwards. The story of Red Rum and the Grand National is a fascinating one, with the horse actually having been bred with the idea of running one mile flat races, initially being entered into low-value events for sprinters.
Red Rum’s first ever race actually came at Aintree Racecourse, winning a five-furlong flat race at the course. Despite enjoying relative success during his formative years, Red Rum was still passed between training yards until he was bought by Ginger McCain for his client Noel le Mare. He trained the horse on the beach of Southport, running him in the sea in order to allow the salt water to treat his pedal osteitis.
The first time that Red Rum won the Grand National was in 1973 when he defeated an Australian chaser named Crisp. He did so in a record time of 9 minutes and 1.9 seconds, chasing down Crisp over 15 lengths after the final hurdle. Considering he was bred for one mile, the fact that he won all of his Nationals over the longer distance of four miles and four furlongs makes it an even more impressive achievement.
Red Rum retained his title the following year, carrying 12 stone as he ran the race, following it up with that win in the Scottish version of the event. His record might have been even more impressive, considering he came second in both 1975 and 1976, but his real triumph came the year after. At the age of 12, Red Rum returned to Aintree to win the race for a record third time, cementing his place as one of the finest ever jump horses.
|1850||8||Joseph Osborne||Chris Green||9-12||Not quoted|
|1851||9||Joseph Osborne||Tom Abbott||10-4||7/1|
Perhaps there’s something in the water in Ireland that means that the country is able to breed relatively short horses that somehow gone on to be successful in the Grand National. The first ever horse to win two official versions of the event was Abd-El-Kader, who was bred by Henry Osborne of Dardistown Castle, close to Drogheda. Perhaps one of the most interesting stories about him is actually how he came to be born in the first place.
Osborne was on his way back to his home in Ireland from London in 1827 when he noticed the impressive nature of the lead horse being used by the coachman. The brown mare was impressive to look at, leading to Osborne purchasing her for fifty guineas and racing her. Renamed English Lass, she won several times before he decided to put her to stud, with Abd-El-Kader being foaled in 1842.
Not broken in until he was four-years-old, Abd-El-Kader struggled when first being trained. This struggling included a nasty fall that resulted in him injuring his back muscles to the point that there was a hollow in a shoulder afterwards. In spite of this, the horse’s natural ability as a runner meant that he was able to take on even the most capable of steeplechasers, taking on fences at a speed that intimidated other horses.
Standing at around 15 hands tall, his stride meant that he could hit a decent pace in races and soon built up a solid reputation. It is surprising, therefore, that he was only asked to carry nine stone and 12 pounds when he entered the National for the first time in 1850, with bookmakers not even bothering to quote him in the betting. He proved both the handicappers and the bookies wrong, winning in 9 minutes and 57.5 seconds.
After being given a break over the winter of 1850, Abd-El-Kader returned to Aintree for another crack at the Grand National in 1851. Once again the handicappers underestimated him, only raising his weight by six pounds, which compared favourably with the 11 stone and 12 pounds carried by Sir John. Another perfect ride led to the horse becoming the first to win the National two years in succession.
|1849||11||Tom Cunningham||Tom Cunningham||11-0||20/1|
|1853||15||Tom Oliver||Tom Oliver||10-10||9/1|
The second horse to complete a double of this famous race was Peter Simple who actually won his first race in 1849 the year before Abd-El-Kader.
Peter Simple was sired by Patron and was foaled in 1838. When the 1849 Grand National came around he was already an experienced horse at 11 years of age. At this time the gelding was owned by Finch Mason Junior and was trained by Tom Cunningham who also took the ride as jockey for the race.
The 1849 National, like many to come, was an eventful one. The race began with a false start, but it is reported that the starter, Lord Sefton, was unable to recall the jockeys because of the crowd noise so allowed the contest to continue and the result to stand. The third fence on the second circuit, as the runners and riders travelled away from the home straight into the countryside, was particularly treacherous, taking out as many as six horses in a melee of falls.
Just six horse finished the race, but only Peter Simple and The Knight Of Gwynne were in contention in the closing stages, with favourite Prince George easing off the pace on the second circuit. It is thought that the owner and jockey of the second horse, Captain G. Darcy, who had bet heavily on his ride, attempted to bribe Tom Cunningham on Peter Simple to pull up his horse as they rode towards the finish line. An opening offer of £1000 was raised to £4,000 but they fell on deaf ears as Cunningham secured the race by three lengths.
Peter Simple with Tom Cunningham returned the following year to defend his crown as the 5/1 favourite though could only finish fifth, with Abd-El-Kader taking the first of his two Nationals. Incidentally The Knight Of Gwynne again finished in the runners-up position. In 1851, still trained by Cunningham but ridden by D. Tubb, Peter Simple was pulled-up at the start of the second circuit. He was transferred to new ownership in G.S. Davenport before the 1852 National who took the ride in the race. He was forced to pull-up again following a heavy fall.
Despite disappointment in three attempts to secure a second Grand National, Peter Simple returned aged 15 for another tilt at success. Now owned by Joseph (Josey) Little, Peter Simple was trained by Tom Oliver who would also ride in the race. Oliver had already had success as a jockey in the Grand National winning on Gaylad in 1842 and Vanguard the following year. This combination clearly caught the bookmakers eye as he was sent off as a 9/1 shot. Getting away well and always prominent, Peter Simple battled on to win by 4 lengths over the previous year’s victor Miss Mowbray.
Peter Simple remains to this day the oldest Grand National winner at 15 years of age.
|1869||6||Richard Roberts||George Stevens||10-7||100/7|
|1870||7||Richard Roberts||George Stevens||11-12||7-2 F|
An almost black horse that was bred from Knight of Kars and Boadicea, The Colonel was bred by John Weyman in Shropshire. Technically a half-breed, the horse was related to a former winner of the 2,000 Guineas and the St Leger on his sire’s side. The horse was trained at Bishop’s Castle by Richard Roberts, with a former five-time winning jockey of the Grand National in George Stevens helping to break him in.
As with Red Rum, The Colonel ran on the flat during his juvenile years, eventually moving to steeplechases for just a single race before being entered into the Grand National in 1869. After earning a reputation for ‘jumping anything’ to such an extent that plough boys didn’t even bother opening the paddock gates for him, he won the race by three lengths at his first time of asking, with Stevens on his back.
He returned to Aintree the year after, having a full stone more in weight added to him by the handicappers. It didn’t make much difference, with The Colonel winning again. At least the 1870 version of the race was a little more exciting, with The Colonel having to do battle with The Doctor up the final straight before eventually winning by a head. His life came to an abrupt end when he fell into a pond and drowned as a 12-year-old, having gone blind.
|1868||6||Ben Land Snr||George Ede||10-7||10/1|
|1871||9||Chris Green||Tommy Pickernell||11-5||11/2|
Only three grey horses have ever won the Grand National. The first, and to date only two-time winning grey, was The Lamb, who’s victories in 1868 and 1871 bookended The Colonel’s own double.
The Lamb was another National winner who was foaled in Ireland, born in County Limerick. It is thought that his name derives from his small stature, growing to just over 15 hands, and his light grey colour. He was originally owned as a pet horse though was sold by his vet owner to train as a racehorse. Following flat and hunt race victories, he was purchased by William Poulett, 6th Earl Poulett to train with Ben Land Snr at Lord Poulett’s estate at Granville Hall, Droxford, in Hampshire.
The grey’s first National came in 1868 when just 6 years old. His jockey that day was George Matthew Ede, an all-round sportsman who was also an accomplished cricketer for his home county of Hampshire. The race saw The Lamb battle with another fancied horse, Pearl Diver, but after exchanging the lead it was The Lamb who held on to win.
The Lamb was unable to race for the following two years having contracted a wasting disease, but he made a return to the track and was entered into the 1871 Grand National. Lord Poulett retained ownership though training duties were taken over by Chris Green, who rode Abd-El-Kader to his first National win in 1850 and trained and rode Half Caste to Grand National victory in 1859. The Lamb would also have a new jockey in 1871, in the form of Tommy Pickernell who had already won the Grand National onboard Anatis in 1860 and would go on to a third victory in 1875 riding Pathfinder. George Ede had tragically lost his life aged 36 at the 1870 Grand National meeting, as a result of a fall riding Chippenham in the Grand Sefton Chase.
The Lamb was again ridden prominently holding Despatch, to whom he conceded 19lbs, before quickening away in the closing stages to seal his second Grand National victory. He returned in 1972 to attempt a third Grand National win with the same team but the 12st 7 lbs top weight saddled proved to be too great and he could only finish in fourth place. The Lamb was subsequently sold to race in Germany though also suffered tragedy when sustaining a fatal fracture.
Curiously, an oil painting of The Lamb with George Ede by Harry Hall dated 1868 shows the horse as being black in colour. Despite this, The Lamb will go down in history as one of the great grey steeplechasers.
|1897||9||Willie McAuliffe||Terry Kavanagh||11-3||6/1 F|
|1899||11||Willie Moore||George Williamson||12-7||5/1|
Foaled in 1888 to a sire named Man O’War and a dam called Vae Victus, Manifesto was allowed to grow and develop as a horse before being entered into races. It wasn’t necessarily a plan that worked initially, given that he fell in the first jump race that he took part in in 1892. It soon proved to be the correct decision to allow him to mature, however, when he won his first maiden race over two miles.
As part of his early development, Manifesto won the Irish Champion Steeplechase as well as the Lancashire Chase, both in 1894. So it was that he was entered into the Grand National in 1895 as a relatively green seven-year-old, ultimately finishing fourth when carrying 11 stone and two pounds. Though it wasn’t a successful entry into the race, it at least gave him some experience of what to expect.
If making it around the Aintree Course alone was all that horses needed to do to repeat the trick then Manifesto would have been golden, but obviously that isn’t enough. So it was that his second foray into The World’s Greatest Steeplechase ended with him failing to make it past the first fence after he clashed with Redhill in mid-air. His owner, Harry Dyas, was the rider that year, but he decided to relinquish the responsibility for the following year.
A decision was taken to bring Willie McAuliffe in to train Manifesto ahead of the 1897 Grand National, with Terry Kavanagh, who had taken him to fifth two years before, returning to the saddle. It was an inspired choice, with Manifesto carrying 11 stone and three pounds and winning as the 6/1 favourite, winning by 20 lengths from Filbert after his nearest rival, Timon, fell three fences from the end.
Manifesto should have returned to Aintree the following year, but ahead of the race a stable boy left his stable open and he escaped, damaging his fetlock before being caught. He did return in 1899, carrying 12 stone and seven pounds alongside his half-sister. She was the favourite with odds of 4/1, whilst Manifesto came in at 5/1. He won by five lengths, despite the fact that he very nearly fell at the Canal Turn.
|1918||8||Harry Escott||Ernie Piggott||11-6||5/1 CF|
|1919||9||Harry Escott||Ernie Piggott||12-7||11/4 F|
Should Poethlyn be on this list? It’s obviously a matter of huge debate on account of the fact that the first of his two Grand National wins came when the race was held at Gatwick Racecourse. In fact, it wasn’t even given the title of Grand National, instead being known as the War Steeplechase. The previous National to be held at Aintree Racecourse was in 1915, with subsequent events cancelled because the course wasn’t available.
It wasn’t available because it had been taken over by the War Office, meaning that an alternative venue had to be found and Gatwick Racecourse did the job. Sadly the course is no longer in existence, with Gatwick Airport situated at approximately the location that the course once stood. It was modified to make it as similar to Aintree as possible, including the fact that it was made to be the same length as the Liverpool course.
When Poethlyn won the race in 1918, he did so ridden by Ernie Piggott, grandfather of Lester Piggott. The horse was trained by Harry Escott for owner Gwladys Peel, winning as an eight-year-old that carried 11 stone and six pounds and had a Starting Price of 5/1. Perhaps his victory that year would have been consigned to the history books, if not for the fact that he won it again when the race returned to Aintree the following year.
It was that successive win that meant that Poethlyn was given his place in the records, proving that it wasn’t just because the event was held elsewhere that meant he was a winner. He started as the 11/4 favourite for the race, making him the shortest-priced winner of the event to date. He was also asked to carry 12 stone and seven pounds, a weight no horse has had to carry since and confirmation of his overwhelming ability.
|1935||8||Noel Furlong||Frank Furlong||11-4||22/1|
|1936||9||Noel Furlong||Fulke Walwyn||12-2||10/1|
There was one more horse that would win the race more than once before Red Rum set a record number of wins, with Reynoldstown achieving this in 1936 and 1937. As well as being another horse to have multiple wins under his belt, Reynoldstown is also another horse that came out of Ireland. Perhaps what makes his first win particularly noteworthy is the fact that he beat Golden Miller, five-time Golden Cup winner, in his prime.
Frank Furlong, who was a subaltern in the 9th Lancers, was the man to ride Reynoldstown to that initial victory. The horse itself came from a flat-racing sire and was named after a local townward near Dublin. He was foaled in 1927, being bought as a five-year-old by Major Noel Furlong in order to give his son a horse to ride in steeplechase events, paying £1,500 for the privilege.
Major Furlong’s interest in the Grand National had been sparked when he travelled to Aintree when in the army to watch the race, having previously dedicated his time to point-to-point racing events. He trained horses in Lancashire, soon finding that Reynoldstown was an excitable beast, only allowing himself, his son and later Fulke Walwyn to ride him. Prior to his first National success, Reynoldstown had won four hurdles and eight chases.
The win in 1935 was by three lengths from Golden Miller, achieved in a time of nine minutes and 20.20 seconds, which was a record until Red Rum beat it nearly 40 years later. A long layoff followed thanks to leg problems, but he returned to the course the following year and this time won by 12 lengths. It was Fulke Walwyn in the saddle, owing to the fact that Frank Furlong hadn’t been able to make the weight.
|2018||8||Gordon Elliott||Davy Russell||10-13||10/1|
|2019||9||Gordon Elliott||Davy Russell||11-5||4/1 F|
If there was a horse capable of dethroning Red Rum as the nation’s favourite Grand National winner, then there was a strong possibility that horse could have been Tiger Roll. There are also similarities between the two horses, with Tiger Roll following in Red Rum’s footsteps of being a horse original bred to be raced on the flat. He was also bred in Ireland, sired by Authorized and born on the 14th of March in 2010.
Though he’d been bred for racing on the flat, Tiger Roll’s first race actual came in a juvenile hurdle event at Market Rasen Racecourse, which he won by three and three-quarter lengths. Just 15.2 hands tall, he was small for a jump horse, though that didn’t stop Godolphin from paying 70,000 Guineas for him at Tattersalls. They never raced him, instead selling him for £10,000 to a former Grand National winning jockey.
Whether Nigel Hawke knew that he had a potential Grand National winner on his hands is a matter for some debate, but after his first win he was sold to Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud for £80,000 and given to Gordon Elliott to train. Elliott began to enter him into numerous different jump races, allowing the horse to learn the ropes and get a few wins under his belt before he won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase in 2018.
The Cheltenham Festival Race proved to be perfect practice for the Grand National, which he won at the first time of asking in 2018. He took the lead two from home, holding off Pleasant Company to win by a head. Though Gordon Elliott said after the race that the horse didn’t ‘owe us too much now’, he would continue to pay back his trainer and owners with another Grand National win a year later.
He wasn’t given much hope in his warm-up race ahead of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, being offered odds of 25/1 for the Boyne Hurdle at Navan, which he won. He won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase again too, heading to Aintree six pounds heavier in the April and once again leading Davy Russell to victory as the 4/1 favourite. He might have won again in 2020 had the Grand National not been cancelled.
The Duke (Grand Liverpool Steeplechase)
|1836||7||W. Sirdefield||Captain Martin Becher||12-0||3/1|
|1837||8||T. Chawner||Henry Potts||12-0||6/1|
It’s worth mentioning The Duke at this point, owing to the fact that he is another horse that has won the race twice. When the race took place in 1839, the press recorded the event as the fourth running of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, which didn’t get renamed as the Grand National until 1847. The main reason for not including his two wins in the official catalogue is debatable, with some feeling they should be.
The first few runnings of the race that would eventually become the Grand National were poorly organised events, largely because racing was relatively new to the area. It had first taken place at Aintree in 1829 when a local innkeeper and entrepreneur named William Lynn hosted races after the success of his hare coursing event. Having hosted three meetings a year, he then decided to host a steeplechase in 1836.
The first race was won by The Duke, ridden by a man named Captain Beecher who would later be responsible for the naming of the fence, Beecher’s Brook. If there is any debate over whether or not The Duke should be included in this list then it come about because the horse’s second win in 1837 came when the race was held in nearby Maghull. He finished third the following year, with the race returning to Aintree in 1839 and then officially being known as a Grand National.
Arguably the main reason it is so difficult to win the Grand National more than once is the fact that the weight that a horse is assigned by the handicappers increases after their success. The whole point of a race being a handicap event is that the handicappers attempt to ensure that better horses are given more weight to make it ‘fairer’, but it does mean that the weight that they carry is heavier from one year to the next.
In order to prove the point, here’s a look at the weights carried by each horse both in the year that they won it for the first time and in subsequent years.
As you can see, most horse’s weight increased somewhat significantly after winning the race. The only exceptions to this are Red Rum for his third win, when he was older and had failed to win in the two previous attempts, and Peter Simple who’s second win came after finishing fifth and pulling up twice. For The Duke’s wins in the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, all horses carried a level 12 stone.
The reality is that the handicappers do what they can to limit the ability of horses to win the race easily after winning it before, which makes the achievements of all of the horses that have done so all the more impressive.