One regret brought about by the modification of the Grand National is the lessening of opportunities for horses trained overseas, especially from America. There is no provision in the conditions of the race for the winners of the Grand Pardubice, Maryland Hunt Cup or Virginia Gold Cup, for instance, as was the situation for many years, to have a golden ticket into the starting line-up. The Grand National, I like to believe, is the race the world watches and it can only benefit the racecourse in securing sponsorship if an element of international participation can be achieved, if only occasionally. Certainly it adds flavour and glamour to the race when a horse from overseas takes part. It would be sad if the next volume recording the history of the race did not add to the role of honour achieved by Battleship, Jay Trump, Ben Nevis and all those gallant adventurers from France, Czeckoslavakia (as it was) and even Japan (Fujino O 1966, ridden by Jeff King), even if they must be allotted automatic top weight.
In the 20’s and 30’s the Americans were so enamoured with the great race a group of wealthy businessmen built a racecourse in Tennessee patterned on Aintree. Grasslands, as it was called, only staged two versions of their Grand National lookalike before the Wall Street crash rendered the Summer County Land Company bankrupt. The Grasslands Hunt and Racing Foundation was no small enterprise as it comprised 632 acres dedicated to the rearing and racing of thoroughbreds across country and various hunting and shooting activities. The second and final race was staged on December 7th, 1931. The weather was miserable and on ground described as ‘greasy’ all 17 runners either fell or were pulled up, with 3 remounting to finish. So at least the replica Grand National achieved a replica of the real event that in 1928 quite possibly inspired the Grassland’s adventure.
Billy Barton is only considered by form students and turf historians as an unlucky loser but in the U.S. he is a legend perhaps on a par with our own Red Rum. He has statue in his honour at Laurel Park racecourse, celebrating his status as the only horse in U.S. racing history to have won the Maryland Hunt Cup and the Virginia Gold Cup in the same season. What makes the achievement easier to understand from our perspective is that both races are over 4-miles and run only a week apart. He also won the Grand National point-to-point race, as it was known in his time.
In the history book Billy Barton is the horse who in 1928 fell at the last fence, to hand Tipperary Tim his famous 100/1 victory. Tommy Cullinan remounted to be the only other finisher. Incidentally, this was the race when Easter Hero landed on top of the Canal Turn on the first circuit and impeded all but 7 of the runners. By Becher’s second time round only 5 were left and the saddle slipped on the horse going best of all. So Tipperary Tim was even more fortunate to win. Though as the name of the game is jumping and he jumped every fence perhaps he made his own luck, as did Foinavon four decades later.
We no longer receive entries for the race from overseas and this can only detract from the history and spectacle, and of course the greatest achievement in the long history of the race was by a horse from foreign parts when Crisp came from Australia and oh so nearly achieved the impossible.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.