It’s one of the toughest renewals in horse racing, so winning a single edition of the Grand National is an almighty achievement. But triumphing in two Grand Nationals in consecutive years? That’s a challenge of almost impossible proportions. Noble Yeats will have a crack at the feat in 2023, although the manner in which he has been treated by the handicapper confirms why it’s so difficult for a horse to go back-to-back in the Aintree showpiece.
Having won the 2022 Grand National carrying a weight of 10st 10lb, Noble Yeats returns as the defending champion and will be asked to lug 11st 11lb over the 4m 2f stretch – more than when he contested the three-mile Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. The sheer length of the Grand National course, not to mention the challenge posed by fences like Becher’s Brook and The Chair, ensures that winning while carrying 11-11 is nigh-on impossible – you have to go back to Red Rum’s marvellous triumph in 1974 for the last time a National champion was so harshly handicapped.
The Horses Who Have Won Back-to-Back Grand Nationals
Speaking of Red Rum, he is just one of a small handful of horses able to overcome the handicapper’s hard-line approach and win consecutive editions of the Grand National. As if that wasn’t enough, Ginger McCain’s star won the race in 1977 too.
But Red Rum is very much the exception rather than the rule. In the last 100 completed Grand National renewals, only three horses have won twice in back-to-back years – that 3% success rate suggests that Noble Yeats should be priced at 33/1 to win in 2023, rather than the 8/1 generally available with the bookmakers. So, can Emmett Mullins’ horse upset the odds and join a very exclusive club of back-to-back Grand National champions?
The first horse to win consecutive Grand Nationals in the twentieth century was Reynoldstown; whose date with destiny may never have happened but for a remarkable stroke of luck in the 1936 renewal. He would overcome a mammoth 12st 2lb handicap to win a second Grand National, but only after the leader – 100/1 shot Davy Jones – ran out at the final fence after the reigns of jockey Anthony Mildmay snapped. That left Reynoldstown, ridden by the legendary Fulke Walwyn, clear of the chasing pack and he showed no signs of slowing down despite his incredible 12-2 handicap.
The Noel Furlong trained horse was given a tough run in 1935 too, with Furlong’s amateur jockey son Frank in the saddle. Most expected Golden Miller, the defending champion and five-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, to prevail, but after he unseated Gerry Wilson at the tenth – not aided, perhaps, by carrying a whopping 12st 7lb as the reigning champion – the path was clear for a new winner. Reynoldstown would make no mistake, setting up a handsome double payday for trainer/owner, Furlong.
Red Rum (1973-74)
When seasoned racing pundits are asked who is the greatest horse of all time, it’s no surprise when Red Rum is the name on their lips. He won three Grand Nationals and also finished runner-up twice – an astonishing feat given the gruelling nature of the race.
Perhaps Red Rum’s finest achievement was winning back-to-back editions of the Grand National in 1973 and ’74. The first race is considered an all-time classic, with McCain’s horse reeling in Australian fancy Crisp – known as the ‘Black Kangaroo’ thanks to his jumping ability – despite a gap of 15-lengths over the final fence.
Red Rum returned the following year, but after being asked to carry a hefty 12st on good ground he didn’t even start as the bookmakers’ favourite for the 1974 renewal. But the horse confirmed his legendary status by downing L’Escargot, a two-time Gold Cup winner who would win the National in 1975, despite giving away weight to the Irish horse.
Tiger Roll (2018-19)
A horse small in stature bred from a Derby winner, it’s crazy to think that Tiger Roll would go on to become such an awesome jumper and stayer. But that’s exactly what the Gigginstown House Stud charge became, winning back-to-back editions of the Grand National and three Cross Country Chase renewals at the Cheltenham Festival. A decent hurdler who won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, it was something of a surprise that Tiger Roll took so readily to the bigger obstacles. But that he did, and despite his small size the horse was able to just head off nearest challenger Pleasant Company in the 2018 renewal.
The handicapper had to act and that he did: raising Tiger Roll’s weight to 11st 5lb for the 2019 edition. Surely such a small horse couldn’t thrive with that millstone, could they? The betting public weren’t concerned, backing Tiger Roll into 4/1 favouritism. And, the market principle duly delivered, becoming the first favourite in more than a decade to prevail in the Grand National and leave the bookies counting the cost.
Sadly, we’ll never know if Tiger Roll could have completed a unique hat-trick as the 2020 Grand National was cancelled due to the global health crisis, but Gordon Elliott’s pint-sized powerhouse certainly earned his place in the annals of National hunt racing history.