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Grand National: Aintree always ready for a classic

The Grand National at Aintree is easily the most recognisable jumps race in the world and is one of the jewels in Britain's sporting crown.

Run in early April each year at the famous Merseyside course, the Grand National attracts huge crowds to Liverpool and is watched by a massive worldwide television audience.

With its famous spruce-clad fences, plenty of which can be named even by casual racing fans, the four-mile-plus marathon is a contest that transcends racing.

A definitive list of the 'Greatest Grand Nationals' will evoke plenty of healthy debate, but here is our list of five famous renewals that stood out for various reasons.

Red Rum's first win - 1973 Red Rum

With his three victories in the race from the 1970s, the only logical starting place is the mighty Red Rum, a name synonymous with this great race.

He helped to put the name of his trainer Ginger McCain into their very own chapter of Grand National history and it was a race that the handler would become intrinsically linked with, winning again with Amberleigh House in 2004 before he retired two years later.

Red Rum's first win was perhaps his most memorable, given the circumstances in which it arrived.

Here he duelled with the great Australian horse Crisp, dubbed 'The Black Kangaroo' due to his impressive jumping ability.

In a feat almost unimaginable these days, the Aussie horse came to Britain and won the Champion Chase in 1971 and was aimed at the Gold Cup a year later (to no avail), before targeting the National in 1973.

Crisp took up the lead after jumping Becher's Brook for the first time and built himself quite an advantage on the field. Jumping the final fence, he was 15-lengths clear with Red Rum the only challenger in hailing distance.

The leader began to toil, his stamina giving way, and Red Rum inched closer with every passing stride, overtaking his rival close to the winning line in one of the most dramatic Nationals Aintree had witnessed.

Red Rum would win again in 1974 and 1977, but nothing matched the stunning late rally of his maiden victory.

McCoy finally wins the big one - 2010 Don't Push It

He is the most successful jockey in the history of jumps racing but for the vast majority of his career, it appeared as though AP McCoy was destined never to win the Grand National.

McCoy was crowned champion jockey in Britain in 20 consecutive seasons, retiring unbowed in 2015 having ridden a record 4,358 winners in his career.

His insatiable hunger for winners separated McCoy from his peers. It didn't matter whether it was Worcester on a summer's evening or the Cheltenham Festival in March - they were all counted equally by the 'Champ'.

By 2010 there was however no room for doubt that one race was causing him significant turmoil as the Grand National at Aintree was a glaring omission from his CV.

He'd come close on occasions and suffered misfortune on others, famously being carried out by a loose horse when leading on well-fancied Clan Royal in 2005.

In 2010 he teamed up with Jonjo O'Neill to ride Don't Push It in the famous colours of McCoy's retaining owner, JP McManus. The horse was backed from 25/1 into 10/1 on raceday and it seemed as if the whole of Aintree was willing him forward as he jumped the last alongside Black Apalachi.

Don't Push It pulled clear after the elbow to win well and the emotion was etched on McCoy's face as he passed the winning line, finally landing racing's best-known race at his 15th attempt.

"If you get enough goes at something and you keep going, once you're in there you've always got a chance," he told reporters after the famous win which helped propel him to win the 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Foinavon's unlikely success - 1967 Foinavon

Every now and again the Grand National throws up a complete shock - with the likes of Last Suspect (50/1, 1985), Mon Mome (100/1, 2009) and Auroras Encore (66/1, 2013) amongst some of those in the category in the modern era.

Few, however, will ever come close to Foinavon's win at 100/1 in 1967 for sheer unlikeliness, in price and in how the race unfolded.

John Buckingham, riding in his Grand National, was seemingly in the midst of just trying to complete as Foinavon was dropping backwards through the field after the midpoint of the race, but a full-on melee came to pass at the 23rd fence as two loose horses caused most 28 of the runners still in the race to either fall, refuse or unseat riders.

Cue Foinavon to emerge from the madness and clear the fence, inheriting a wide-margin lead.

Remounting was still permitted in that era and 17 horses and riders got back going in pursuit of the unlikely pair, but Foinavon's advantage was stealthy and he completed the remaining jumps for a most unlikely victory.

The Foinavon fence - jumped as the 7th and 23rd in the Grand National - is a lasting memory to his win.

Red Rum emulated - 2019 Tiger Roll

Retaining the Grand National just isn't the done thing. Not since Red Rum (1973-74) had any horse returned to defend their crown successfully but the indomitable Tiger Roll changed all that in 2019.

The Gordon Elliott-trained star had won in 2018 by an ever-diminishing head from Pleasant Company, trained by Willie Mullins.

Davy Russell's partner took seamlessly to the famous Aintree fences on his very first visit, continuing the rejuvenation of his career which had seen him win at the Cheltenham Festival in both 2017 and 2018.

His Cross Country win in '18 was to be the start of a golden spell. He won a Grade 2 over hurdles in Ireland in February 2019, before retaining his Cheltenham mantle emphatically.

Some scoffed at odds as short as 4/1 for another Grand National, but Tiger Roll cruised around Aintree under Russell and the result never really look to be in doubt. He took the lead at that last and had plenty to spare up the long run-in to win again.

In splendid Aintree sunshine, Tiger Roll had cemented his place as one of the most-loved horses in the modern era with a generational win.

Rachael raises the bar higher - 2021 Minella Times

No apologies for a slight recency-bias here in selecting the two Grand Nationals that were separated by a void in 2020.

After a year away, 2021 was of course anticipated more than ever and despite being run behind-closed-doors, it's a race that will live in the memories of racing enthusiasts for ever more.

The Henry De Bromhead-trained Minella Times won in the colours of leading owner JP McManus after enjoying a faultless spin around Aintree, but it was the winning rider who stole the show.

Rachael Blackmore became the first female rider ever to win the Grand National, sparking headlines around the world when she did.

Just a month after her barnstorming efforts saw her crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival - another first for a female - she shattered another glass ceiling for women in sport, drawing the famous line from big-race caller Richard Hoiles as she passed the winning line: "Rachael Blackmore raises the bar still higher".

Given her remarkable talent, it's unlikely to be last time she sets a benchmark for her weighing room rivals.

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