SO MANY stories surrounding the Grand National have gone down in racing folklore. But none have been more dramatic as that of Foinavon, the 100-1 winner in 1967. Until now the way the oddly-blinkered horse tiptoed his way around the carnage at the 23rd fence before, almost apologetically, hopping over the obstacle is one of the abiding images of the world’s greatest steeplechase. But most of our memories have been limited to that grainy footage and Michael O’Hehir’s classic commentary. Until now that is…
The story of Foinavon is chronicled in this new book, Foinavon: The Story Of The Grand National’s Biggest Upset. Written by David Owen, a former sports editor of the Financial Times, it is an entertaining and informative account of how this ultra-slow Irish stayer became a Grand National hero. Owen documents Foinavon’s life and career both before and after his Aintree victory and also splendldly captures the drama of the 1967 National itself, with eyewitness accounts from people who were there on that famous day.
I thought I knew quite a bit about Foinavon but this book, which is meticulously researched, offers nuggets of detail that I had no idea about. For example, he was bought by Arkle’s owner, Anne Duchess of Westminster, and in his younger days was stabled close to the great horse at Jim Dreaper’s yard north of Dublin.
The stories of Foinavon’s trainer John Kempton (who chose to go to Worcester with another horse on National day and so wasn’t at Aintree), and jockey John Buckingham are also told with great attention to detail.
Foinavon was, well, a bit slow, but he was also a character and not every jockey got on with him, and boy did he have plenty ride him! Owen tells the hilarious story of a crashing fall one day at Baldoyle in 1965 and, according to his jockey Pat Taafe, as Foinavon lay prostrate on the ground, the horse nonchalantly started to chew on some grass. Taafe, his jodhpurs covered in mud, vowed never to ride him again.
The book also captures the turmoil that the Grand National faced during the 60s when Aintree, under the autocratic leadership of Mirabel Topham, looked likely to replaced by new housing.
This is a must-have nostalgia trip for anybody who loves the Grand National.
Foinavon: The Story Of The Grand National’s Biggest Upset is published by Bloomsbury in hardback and is £18.99.