Richard Dunwoody’s Grand National diary: Two-time winner shares insight
It is an occasion like no other. Watched over the world, the Grand National is the one race in the calendar that stops our nation.
While it is the Cheltenham Gold Cup that most jockeys want to win, the Aintree marathon is Jump Racing’s shop window to the once-a-year punter.
As a jockey, you would have been gearing up for the Grand National as soon as the Cheltenham Festival was over. You’d give anything for a winner at Cheltenham but for me, however big Cheltenham was – and it was huge – Aintree and the National was always the one for me. The National above all the others was always the one race that I wanted to win.
I was fortunate enough to win the race twice with West Tip (1986) and Miinnehoma (1994). They were both intelligent horses and knew how to look after themselves in the race.
They could see trouble before it happened. While every National renewal and every winner has different characteristics, my routine on the day did not vary a great deal.
Arriving and preparation
I would always drive up on the Thursday and stay out of Liverpool at one of the hotels in Haydock where it was a little bit quieter.
I used to struggle with my weight and could spend hours in the sauna, so I might get up and have a quick sauna in the morning before I left for Aintree and would have a bit of breakfast depending on what weight I had to make for my ride in the race – usually it was just a slice of toast or two, maybe a bit of cereal.
I had to get down to 10st 8lb for Miinnehoma but luckily with West Tip, after the first couple of years, I did not have too many weight worries with him.
Obviously, you would try to get to the course in good time, and probably walk the course again in the morning before going back into the sauna, more now to warm the muscles up before the first race.
Behind the scenes
You would hope that you did not have to ride light in a race before the National and sometimes the sauna at Aintree could be absolutely packed – especially if there was a good horse in the Grand National field running off top weigh and keeping all the weights down.
That would mean a lot of jockeys would have to ride off 10st, so it could be really busy.
The weighing room has changed now, but there used to be two main areas to it – the northern-based jockeys were in one side and the southern jockeys were in the other. The old weighing room is a bar now.
You’d perhaps ride two or three before the big race, all the while hoping you wouldn’t get hurt in a fall.
Gearing up for the big one
There is a bit more time before the National, but it goes very quickly, because you are pulled out miles ahead of the off-time.
We used to have a Stewards’ meeting in the old days. They would lecture the jockeys and would tell you not to go too quickly over the Melling Road and down to the first fence. Invariably we would ignore them!
In the paddock, you really only make small talk with the trainer and owners. You should have a clear plan in your mind on how to ride the race.
Obviously, you would have done your homework and you would know the colours of all the other jockeys, to know what horses would be around you during the race.
You would have studied the form of all the horses too, in a bid to know which horses to track and which ones not to track. You would hopefully have ridden the National course in the Topham Chase, which used to be on the Thursday and is now on the Friday, to get a feel of the fences, which was always very useful.
In the race, you are always trying to avoid bad jumpers, usually trying to pick your way around them up the middle of the track over the first six fences, then you’d try to branch over and get back on the inner if possible.
With West Tip and Miinnehoma, neither wanted to be in front for too long – and both hit the front earlier than I wished.
Despite the Aintree fences being smaller than they used to be, it really still is the world’s greatest race.
* Two-time Grand National winner Richard Dunwoody shares his insight on behalf of GentingBet
Watch the 4m2½f Randox Health Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (7yo+) on ITV at 5.15pm on Saturday
Have a look at the 40-runner race card and most current betting odds here