Corach Rambler wins a dramatic Grand National which protesters tried desperately to stop

Mick the Ram

Apr 17, 2023

The 175th running of the most famous horse race in the world had a little bit of everything, with so much drama that incorporated thrills, protests, tears, and triumph.

At one point there was a very real possibility that the 2023 Grand National might not actually take place with animal rights protestors breaching security and entering the track with several managing to attach themselves to fences. Thankfully they were removed and the delay was only 14 minutes.

When the race got under way it was the horse that ended up going off as favourite, Corach Rambler, who triumphed taking the lead after the last jump and holding on from a fast finishing Vanillier.

It gave jockey Derek Fox his second win in the race after only being declared fit to ride on the morning of the race. It was also an emotional victory for trainer Lucinda Russell who lost her father and mentor Peter a few months ago, and then in the past couple of weeks the horse who gave both her and the jockey success in 2017, One For Arthur, also passed away, making the win extra special.

Corach drifted in the betting markets

At the start of the week leading up to the big race, Corach Rambler had been clear favourite after a fabulous run at the Cheltenham Festival last month; but as the weekend drew nearer, one or two others began attracting a lot of attention, so much so that by the eve of the National, Ain’t That a Shame ridden by Rachael Blackmore, and the 2022 third place horse Delta Work had shorter odds and the former favourite drifted considerably in the betting market.

Police were expecting the protests

Also during week activists had made it quite clear that they intended to cause a disruption of some kind, making specific threats to storm the track and cause the abandonment of the race.

On the eve of the race, Merseyside Police said they had planned for the possibility of protests, adding that they respected the right to peaceful protest and expression of views, but warned that criminal behaviour and disorder of any kind would not be tolerated and would be dealt with in a robust manner.

Activists scaled fences but quickly removed

The climate and animal rights group who call themselves “Animal Rising” were at the racecourse from around 9.30am on the morning of the race and were asking for those who “care about animals” to join with them, handing out leaflets and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Chief Constable Paul White estimated that around 70-80 protestors from the campaign group had gathered at the entrance to the racecourse, where they had been greeted by a heavy police presence.

As race time approached it was reported that about 15 or so demonstrators had successfully managed to scale the perimeter fence using ladders and made it onto the track, where at least two had affixed themselves to one of the obstacles using glue and lock-on devices, in a bid to stop the race taking place.

Mr White said he was pleased at how swiftly their “significant resource” had been able to remove those who had gotten onto the course, as well as preventing any others from following them.

Only a short delay

In total 118 arrests were made for both criminal damage and public nuisance offences and these included three people who were earlier held in connection with potential co-ordinated disruption activities.

The race itself was only delayed by 14 minutes, which under circumstances represented exceptional policing and for the vast majority of the race-goers it had little or no impact on the enjoyment of their day.

It did mean however that the usual parade of the horses had to be passed over, but for most of the 70,000 in attendance that was of no great consequence.

Protest group make threats of further disruptions

Prior to the activists entering the track the protesting group had issued a statement through their spokesperson, Nathan McGovern which said: “Police are wasting time chasing protesters rather than addressing the climate and ecological emergency, and our broken relationship to animals and this is why today marks the first of many actions that will really take place this summer to push this conversation to the top of the agenda.”

The  message will concern racing authorities greatly, with some huge meetings scheduled over the coming months. The activists insist their actions are for the good of the horses stating that their drive is to stop animals being harmed for entertainment purposes, or indeed any other reason.

Willing to put bodies on the line

One of the protesters was student Sarah McCaffrey, who attempted to justify the group’s behaviour saying: “I know everyone coming to Aintree to view the races would say they love the horses; however, the suffering experienced by them should shock us all and that is why I have decided to put my body between those horses and death on the racecourse, rather than gamble with their lives.”

Compromising horses welfare

All very noble, but as would be expected it was met with cynicism from those within the sport. Lucinda Russell, who trained the winner Corach Rambler, said: “Are the protestors doing it for themselves or for the horses? If they are doing it for the horses then they have got to understand that they are compromising their welfare, and my horse just loves everything that he does and is kept in the best conditions; it all seems a bit pointless.”

Racing people slam activists for lack of understanding

TV pundits rallied too making the point that the activists are misinformed, do not understand the racing industry, and do not appreciate just how well the horses are cared for, with the upmost attention and affection given to them by the grooms and trainers.

Former champion jockeys Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy both slammed the protesters both accusing them of being attention seekers, with McCoy adding: “I got into racing because I love horses and I still love horses now I am retired. These people have no real understanding of the horse and how well they get looked after.”

Delay may have been reason five went at first fence

There is no doubt that the delay did the horses no favours with several acting up down at the start, but credit should be given to everyone for getting the race under way with such a minimum delay, considering what it might have been.

One of those that seemed affected more than most was Cloudy Glen, one of five who failed to go any further than the first fence. The others were: Recite a Prayer, Diol Ker, Hill Sixteen, and Galvin, whose jockey was a former National winner Davy Russell.

Coko and coffee tasting early glory

Coko Beach – one of four grey horses in the race – took an early lead and led the field up to the 9th fence, when a poor jump allowed Mister Coffee to take over at the front. Going well at this point and continuing into the second circuit were Our Power, Minella Trump, The Big Dog, last years winner Noble Yeats, Roi Mage and a little surprisingly the eventual winner – Corach Rambler.

The surprise being that as a rule the horse prefers to be well covered up and be delivered late, but seemed to be content with life in a very prominent position.

Rambler strolls to the front

The field bypassed the 17th fence which had been the first fence on the opening circuit, due to veterinary attention being given to Hill Sixteen after his heavy fall. At the 18th the top weight, Any Second Now, pulled up after never really getting into the race.

Still bounding away in the lead and clearly enjoying himself was Mister Coffee, and that was where he stayed right the way up to approaching the last; but by now Corach Rambler was poised alongside, having completely closed the 5 length advantage the leader had established two fences out, and with a great jump soured into the lead.

On the long run in the horse that had been favourite in build up – but which had drifted in the betting only to attract late support to regain favouritism – began to hang slightly as is his way, hence the reason he usually is held up, but he had been given a near perfect ride by his jockey, Derek Fox.

As a consequence he had enough in the tank to hold off the very fast finishing pair of grey horses: Vanillier and Gaillard Du Mesnil, to win the 2023 Grand National and delight the cheering masses, as well as his syndicate of owners, known as “the ramblers” including a 21-year-old student.

Winning jockey might have missed the race

The winner had also won very impressively at the Cheltenham Festival last month and for the second big race running, his jockey, Derek Fox, has not had to even lift his whip once to get the horse home, displaying brilliant ability in the saddle.

Remarkably, he may not have had the opportunity, as it needed a doctor to declare him able to ride earlier in the day following a fitness test on his injured shoulder. As a precaution, Fox sat out the first two days of the Aintree meeting in order to give his injury extra healing time “I was worried all week, so I thank God I was back in time, because it was the thrill of my life to ride him,” he said afterwards.

He also explained how the “special” horse has his own way of doing things and his own running style, so basically he just lets him do his own thing.

Incredibly he said that the decision to be much closer to the front throughout was in actual fact… the horse’s! “Today he decided he wanted to be a bit handier I think, so I was happy to go with it and he always felt like he was enjoying himself up there; I was never worried and he is just a remarkable horse.”

He also praised the training duo of Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore for giving him time to recover from his shoulder problem and take the Grand National ride.

Emotional victory for trainer

For the trainer Russell it was a deeply emotional experience. Having lost her father earlier in the year, she was heartbroken when the 2017 winner, One For Arthur died from colic just three weeks ago. So to repeat the success with the same jockey on board was very special for her. “I was in tears as the tapes went up, it is very personal this one. I’ll always remember One for Arthur, he was a brilliant horse, but this is just very special too,” She said; also confirming that she had scattered some of the previous winner’s ashes by the winning post.

Massive windfall for student owner

The Ramblers syndicate bought the wining horse for £17,000 in November 2020 and 21-year-old student Cameron Sword will be wondering what to do with his £50,000 share of the winnings. The confident youngster explained how he phoned the trainer and basically paid his £3,400 to be part owner. He too thought the protesters had done more harm than good, remarking: “Making the horses wait out in the sun for even longer would not have done them any good,” he said, before cheekily adding: “They can do one; this is our sport and I love it.”

The best of the rest

There were as usual plenty of hard luck stories, but not too many complaints from those immediately behind the winner. Sean Flanagan who rode the fast finishing runner-up Vanillier, said his mount had possibly been too far back early in the race, but stayed on really strongly all the way to the line. Third place jockey Paul Townend was very happy with Gaillard Du Mesnil, simply stating: “I had a cracking ride.”

Sean Bowen on the 2022 winner, Noble Yeats, felt his horse had run his heart out, but essentially was carrying just too much weight to have a proper crack at winning so under the circumstances was content to grab fourth. The Big Dog was always in the leading pack and Aidan Coleman on board was delighted with him and his fifth place finish: “He ran really well, jumped good, and enjoyed himself; probably a big weight has shown from the back of the last.”

The next five home were all relatively pleased with how things went, especially Philip Enright on sixth placed Born By The Sea who said his horse had “run a cracker”. Another great round was by the seventh horse, Roi Mage whose jockey Felix de Giles described his run as “an absolute blinder”. Adding that if anything his mount was jumping the fences almost too well and possibly paid the price for it in the final yards.

Mister Coffee led for more than two thirds of the race and his jockey Nico De Boinville was very proud, stating: “I had a great spin, he just got tired at the Elbow.” A Wave Of The Sea and Le Milos in ninth and tenth both travelled well, but couldn’t quite make the trip.

Happy to get round

11th placed Our Power was going well until hitting a fence hard on the second circuit that seemed to take a lot out of him and the next four: Enjoy D’Allen, Fortescue, Carefully Selected and Minella Trump all seemed to not quite get home, running out of steam from around two out.

Ben Jones on 16th placed Francky Du Berlais however was thrilled with his first ride in the race, stating: “That was one of the greatest thrills of my life; I couldn’t have asked for a better partner, it was just like doing a bit of hunting back at home.”

The last of the 17 to complete the course was the horse who on the morning of the race was actually the favourite and that was 2021 winning jockey Rachael Blackmore’s Ain’t That A Shame, but the mount failed to get the trip and trailed in a long, long way behind the winner.

Protesters will claim justification

The activists who delayed the start will feel justification in their actions and their on-going campaign when news came through that Hill Sixteen – who fell badly at the very first fence and according to Dickon White, who runs Aintree as North West regional director for the Jockey Club, sustained an unrecoverable injury – had sadly died.

Two other horses: Recite A Prayer and Cape Gentleman also suffered heavy falls, but thankfully after being assessed on course by skilled veterinary staff, they were both able to walk on to the horse ambulance for further assessment in the stables.

Petition set up by group alongside one-sided message

The Animal Rising group immediately began a petition to get future Grand Nationals cancelled. In an accompanying message they wrote that despite the fact that on the whole society considers themselves to be animal lovers, there remained industries that exist and thrive by causing unnecessary and prolonged suffering and in this case those animals are horses.

It went on to suggest that the horses were forced to compete in events such as the Grand National and endure repeated whipping and run in “high-risk” races where they may face injury or death. They calculated that since the turn of the century, 55 horses have died at the Aintree racecourse, including 15 in the Grand National itself. “These beautiful animals are simply suffering for tradition and for the gambling industry, which is unacceptable,” was their harsh reality check.

Continuing with a carefully prepared statement aimed at undermining the racing industry, they pointed out that all animals, have the capacity to feel joy and pain, therefore they said; “should not be forced to partake in dangerous events against their will.”

They ended their communication by calling on everyone to back their campaign to end horse-racing for good. It was a crafty and disingenuous attempt to undermine the industry, with ironically, a completely blinkered outlook.

Tragic fall but owner backs the sport

Support for the sport came from one man who would be entitled to possibly question the safety and that was Hill Sixteen’s owner Jimmy Fyffe. He was naturally deeply upset at losing his horse, calling it “heartbreaking”. However, he was quick to make the point that these horses just love to run, and run hard, and confirmed that their treatment is almost like royalty. “They get looked after so well; I have been in all the stables and they are looked after like kings. They have a great life, so I have no qualms with staying in this game.”

He also suggested that the protesters actions had affected the horses. “They certainly did not help as it meant they had to walk about for a lengthy time, go back to the stables and then coming back out again; it wasn’t good for them whatsoever, “ he remarked with a heavy heart.

Best horse won

The final result of the Randox Grand National for 2023 (first ten home):

  1. Corach Rambler 8-1 Favourite
  2. Vanillier 20-1
  3. Gaillard Du Mesnil 10-1
  4. Noble Yeats 10-1
  5. The Big Dog 12-1
  6. Born by the Sea 50-1
  7. Roi Mage 33-1
  8. Mister Coffee 33-1
  9. A Wave of the Sea 66-1
  10. Le Milos 12-1

Out of 39 starters there were 17 who completed the course and crossed the finishing line. It was definitely eventful, but away from the disturbances, the abiding memory of the 2023 Grand National will be that of Corach Rambler being given a perfect ride around the two circuits by jockey Derek Fox, literally skipping over the final fence and proving himself to be – what a great many people believed before hand – the best horse in the race.


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