THE GRANT NATIONAL: Former jockey Chris Grant on his Grand National memories

Chris Grant in his yard .Picture By Frank Reid
Chris Grant in his yard .Picture By Frank Reid

CHRIS Grant is a former leading National Hunt jockey turned horse-racing trainer.

The 56-year-old is perhaps best known for his three second-placed finishes in the Grand National. On the eve of the nation’s favourite race, chief sports writer CRAIG HOPE went along to his yard at Low Burntoft Farm near Wolviston to meet the man who was first past the post in nearly 800 races …

IF Chris Grant is hung up on the “seconditis” which has plagued his participation in the Grand National, then his own website does not spare his feelings.

“The nearly man” it readily labels him.

No other jockey in the history of the world’s most famous race has endured such heartache.

But do not dare put to Grant that his Aintree agony is something of a curse.

“Unlucky?” he responds, “I would say I was lucky to be second three times.

“It would have been nice to win one, of course.

“The first time I was second it was a buzz and so was the next time.

“By the time of the third I was thinking ‘this just isn’t going to happen’.

“But I love the race – for me, the Grand National is THE one.”

It was in 1986 that the leading northern jockey, aboard outsider Young Driver, first found one better in the form of West Tip.

But then began a partnership with the Arthur Stephenson-trained Durham Edition, a horse who shared Grant’s thirst for the four-and-a-half-mile test of guts, stamina and skill.

“Durham Edition just loved the place and I was lucky enough to be on him,” he says.

“I was in front on him the first time in 1988.

“I took it up at the second last and then I was passed up the run-in by Rhyme ‘N’ Reason.

“The next time, in 1990, I thought ‘I’ll leave it until after the last’.

“I did that and I just couldn’t get past Mr Frisk.

“That was the closest I came and I was only beaten by a track record, which still stands today.

“If ever we were going to win it then that was the year.

“The ground had dried out and it was perfect, we just found one too good.”

While three seconds would suggest an expert steering job – and rightly so – it wasn’t always such a cruise around those 30 fences.

“My first three rides I didn’t even get around,” he recalls.

“The first horse was Flashy Boy who wasn’t the greatest jumper in the world.

“I rode a horse called The Vintner the next year.

“He was clever as eggs – he’d jumped around brilliantly the first lap but then at the start of the second he said ‘thank you, I’ve had enough’.

“We ran to the third and I just couldn’t get him over.

“He slammed the anchors on and fired me into the ditch and that was it – two years running he did that.”

After three seconds and two unceremonious deposits into the birch and branches, you’d be forgiven for thinking Grant’s recollections might become tinged with at least a little resentment.

“Definitely not, I still love the place,” he comes back when asked if his love affair has waned since his riding days.

“Everybody loves the Cheltenham Festival but I still get that buzz about Aintree.

“You get shivers down your spine just walking into the place.

“As a jockey, it was just something completely different to the races you normally run in.

“The fences weren’t daunting, it’s more of a buzz because it’s once a year.

“There’s a lot camaraderie in the weighing-room and the craic was brilliant, but there are a few nerves as well, it has that effect.

“You normally found the louder ones were always that little bit quieter.”

Grant, however, one of the quiet ones, is a little bit louder when it comes to the National.

Indeed, there is little else he would rather talk about