Battleship, 1938 Grand National Winner
Got a horse you think is fast? Can he jump….30 fences in a row of about 5 feet…..did I mention ditches both deep and wide on both sides? Can he carry weight-- say 160 pounds--while doing all this?
By the way, the race is 4 miles, 856 yards to the finish. Still want to race?
Battleship wanted to race. The first genuinely all-American entry in the world's most famous race over obstacles, Battleship carried the colors of Mrs. Marion du Pont Scott of Virginia in the 1938 Grand National.
To win the Grand National a horse has to have speed, endurance, jumping ability and superior athletic talents. Everyone agrees the safest place to be in the Grand National is on the lead. If you aren't with the leaders, then you must jump jumps, plus avoid the fallen horses, and there are lots of those. Generally, less than half of the 30 to 40 horses which start, finish.
Most of the fences are considered "dangerous." Becher's Brook, the most famous of the fences, is a thick thorn fence with a fearsome three-foot drop on the landing side, which also contains a wide ditch six feet deep; falling into the ditch is about the same as falling off a two-story roof. Of course Valentine's Brook is about the same a Becher's. Then there is Canal Turn, a five-foot wall with a six-foot ditch on the takeoff side, which, immediately after being jumped requires a quick right-angle turn to avoid the canal just ahead. The Chair is the highest, widest and narrowest obstacle of all, with a six-foot ditch at take off.
So, do you think you want a big horse to run this race? Think again! Battleship was a small horse..15.2 hands…he was a stallion (one of the few to win the race) and his jockey, Bruce Hobbs was the youngest to ever ride a Grand National winner. Considering those "weaknesses," the English bettors sent the pair off at odds of 40 to 1.
They should have been better handicappers. Battleship was a son of Man of War, a bloodline noted for speed, endurance and jumping ability. Add to those credentials the fact that Battleship had been well tested in America and was a stakes winner on the flat before being converted to steeple chasing.
The race starts without a gate…the horses just mill around until the signal to race. Royal Danieli, a powerful built gelding, was the favorite and he dwarfed Battleship. Royal Danieli went right to the lead, leaving Battleship in mid pack. But Battleship worked his way forward and was in second place by the halfway point, then dropped back at Becher's Brook.
With Hobbs doing a masterful job of riding, the little chestnut stallion was gaining ground again when he hit the third-to-last fence very hard and almost fell. Hobbs got him together again and took second place when Workman stumbled and fell at the next fence.
Only Royal Danieli remained to catch as they headed to the last jump. Royal Danieli cleared the fence with a two-length lead, but Battleship kept coming. With 100 yards to go, Battleship was still a half-length behind, but gaining.
With every stride, Battleship made up inches and when the pair hit the wire, Battleship won by a nose.
The time was not a record, but a remarkable 9 minutes 29 1/5 seconds.
Jay Trump is another great Grand National story. Thirty-seven years (1965) after Battleship won, Jay Trump, a failure as a flat racer, was sent to England to try his hand as a steeplechaser.
He managed to win with an even narrower margin than Battleship's nose.
Next time you think you've got a horse that's fast, can jump and has endurance, think about Battleship and Jay Trump, and imagine yourself looking ahead to 30 jumps and 4 miles and 856 yards of grass.