Grand National nearly men: Nicky Henderson, Davy Russell and others lament rare gap on their racing CVs

Tom Peacock
So close: Chris Grant and Durham Edition, right, chase home winner Mr Frisk and Marcus Armytage - completing an unwelcome hat-trick of second place Grand National finished for Grant - Getty Images

Meet the jockeys and trainers whose superb careers are missing a triumph in jump racing's showpiece event...

Nicky Henderson, three-times British champion trainer, saddles Cocktails At Dawn

We’ve been very lucky with Champion Hurdles, Gold Cups and so on, and it is the one thing that’s missing. It would be very sad to have gone through life without at least knowing what it’s like to win one, and we have to keep on trying because I adore the place. Hopefully we’ll have a few more goes, although I don’t suspect it will be this year. 

We’ve been trying since 1979, when Zongalero finished second. I remember watching a couple that looked as if they were going really well down to Becher’s second time. You’re just thinking: ‘Please get over this as you’re three-quarters of the way there’, but it doesn’t quite happen.

Wont Be Gone Long, who won the Topham Chase one year, was one I think would have had a real chance in the void Grand National in 1993 but Richard Dunwoody got the starting tape wrapped around his neck.”

Davy Russell, multiple Cheltenham Festival winner, rides Saint Are

The problem is it’s so difficult. You can go and pay good money for the sort of horse that might win you a Gold Cup one day, but you can’t buy a Grand National horse as there just isn’t a specific type. You can ride in the Gold Cup and fancy your chances if you know your horse is good enough. You can’t really say that in the National.

It’s great to just be lining up at the start but you’ve got 30 fences ahead of you, 39 other horses and then there’s the day itself, with the atmosphere and the parade.

However, you can speak to people from any walk of life, at least around England, Ireland or France, that have no interest in horses or even seen a horse and they know where the National is run, maybe even what horse won it or who rode it. It’s far broader than our sport, and that’s what makes it so special.” 

Chris Grant, three-times runner-up as a jockey

It’s every kid’s dream to win the National so who knows what I would have given. The first time I was second on Young Driver (1986) I was delighted, it was really exciting, but by the second and third time I was starting to think it just wasn’t going to happen for me.

If Rhyme ‘n’ Reason had fallen at Becher’s in 1988 - he was down on his belly at the fence - then I’m sure I would have won. Durham Edition went past him at the second-last but he battled back and got me on the run-in. A couple of years later I waited until the Elbow but we just couldn’t get past Mr Frisk. It’s one of those things. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Grand National 2017

Charlie Swan, nine times Irish champion jockey

It was one of the main things I wanted to do since I was a kid - firstly I always wanted to ride in the National, and then I wanted to win it. I did manage to ride in the race nine times and got around on six of them.

I suppose the best I did was finish second on Cahervillahow in the void National in 1993. That was a funny one - there were a lot of protesters on the course but the thing was that everyone else kept going, so I did. We weren’t beaten far by Esha Ness in the end.

Lastofthebrownies was fifth on my first ride in 1990 and Life Of A Lord was seventh in 1996 - I thought he had a chance but he made a mistake at Valentines and never really recovered. He was a good enough horse to go on and win the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown a few weeks later.

Norman Williamson, won Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle in 1995

It has obviously always been a huge race but at the time I was riding in it, it was definitely more of a lottery. When you had a ride in it, getting round was what you would be hoping for, and to win it was only something you dreamed about. Nowadays, I think if you were riding a well-handicapped horse, you could fancy your chances much more.

I finished seventh and fifth on Master Oats, but he was carrying nearly 12st and he was the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in 1995. Amazingly, he only had 10st when I rode him in the race the year before, so thinking about it he must have been a stone-cold certainty. He fell at the 13th, the same time as a horse called Double Silk fell. We were cantering at the time.

I was second in 2000 on Mely Moss. He was a bad bleeder and for Charlie Egerton to have got him there was the most remarkable training performance because he had not even run since a hunter chase a year before. Charlie was not even prepared to risk him in a prep race. To get so close to winning did hurt, but I knew Papillon and Ruby Walsh well and they just out battled us on the run-in.

Sam Waley-Cohen, six-times winner over the National fences, rides The Young Master

Being an amateur, it’s so hard to have a horse there to ride on the day. Much of the fun has been actually finding the horse and getting it there.

It’s like asking what you would give to fulfil your boyhood dream, and then you wonder what you do when it actually happens. You might just feel ‘that’s great’, what do I do now?

I’ve been placed a few times in it and hindsight can be a terrible thing. With Oscar Time, who was second in 2011, I thought back and there could have been half a dozen things I could have done differently. You get close, but you’ve been beaten by a better horse on the day. All you can do is get your horse into a good position and try to give him the best possible chance.

The other place: Andrew Thornton won the Gold Cup on Cool Dawn but the National remained elusive Credit: Getty

Andrew Thornton, Gold Cup winner

I think I’ve ridden in it 14 times. The reason you become a jockey is to ride in the National, and when you’ve done that, you want to ride one that has a chance of winning.

I was fourth on St Mellion Fairway, behind Earth Summit in 1998 but the one I always feel got away was Simon. We were going really well up to Valentines second time around, I sat quiet but he just didn’t get over it. Then the next year, Dominic Elsworth was riding him, he asked him a question at the exact same fence and he put down and Dominic was unseated. It just wasn’t his fence.

Sometimes you ride one that just doesn’t like it, and you know that from a very early stage. I think if you’re riding anything less than 25-1, you can fancy your chances.”

John Francome, seven-times British champion jockey

I’d love to say that I’d have given anything to win it, but I’m afraid it just didn’t bother me. I haven’t given it a second thought. It’s obviously a great race, they say it changes your life, but I’m not sure it really would have to me. It isn’t everything - if you win it, you win it.

I finished second on Rough And Tumble in 1980 and third on him in 1979 but I think that was probably just as good as he was. The one time I thought I could have won it was on Golden Rapper in 1976. We were leading until Becher’s Brook second time around, when we fell. I woke up in Fazakerley Hospital, so I didn’t even know where I was let alone having time to think about what might have been.

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes