We’re just a couple of weeks away from the world’s greatest horse race – the Grand National. This year, the race will be held on Saturday April 5th and, as ever, it will be the biggest gambling day of the year in the UK – with punters wagering anywhere between £150m and £200m on the day and in the run-up to the event.
An ever-increasing share of that pot, these days, is backed on the exchanges like Betfair – without recourse to bookmakers. Bet fair is the world’s biggest exchange, though there are others, and the competition between all the big bookmakers and the exchanges is particularly fierce in the run up to the big race each year.
In short, the gambling is huge and the race is an enormous national event. But it’s also a race that a few women have had a big effect on – most notably Jenny Pitman the first female trainer of a winner with Corbiere back in 1983 – a feat she repeated 12 years later with Royal Athlete.
But if we go back 20 years to the 1994 National, there’s a lady who most people outside racing haven’t heard of – but who deserves an enormous amount of credit for becoming the first female ever to win Grand National prize money as a jockey. When you add to that that she was 52 and an amateur rider, it makes it all the more amazing.
The lady in question is the ‘galloping granny’, Rosemary Henderson who rode Fiddlers Pike in the 1994 National. The horse was a former point-to-point runner and Rosemary both owned and trained it.
Rosemary had only even started riding at the age when most professional jockeys are considering calling it a day.
It was Rosemary’s husband Bill, a vet, who first found Fiddlers Pike. He had been called on so many times to see to the gelding’s bad back by a local livery yard, that they eventually gave him the horse. But Fiddlers Pike subsequently recovered so well that he began to be entered in a few races – eventually winning the Warwick National as well as the Chepstow Grand National trial.
By the time he was entered for the Grand National of 1994, Fiddlers Pike was 13 years old and his jockey-owner-trainer, Rosemary, was a 52 year-old grandmother.
Rosemary and Fiddlers Pike were 100-1 to win the race. She’s even had to to apply to the Jockey Club for a special dispensation because she hadn’t ridden the requisite 15 winners under rules. Rosemary steered her horse out of trouble on Aintree’s first circuit, going past the grandstand in 11th. But as the field started the second circuit, Fiddlers Pike moved forward and when they jumped the 20th fence, Rosemary and Fiddlers Pike joined the leaders and appeared to be going extremely well. But the horse made a mistake at the fence before Becher’s Brook and Fiddlers Pike was never going to win. But he stayed on gamely and went on to finish 5th managed to complete the course – a truly remarkable achievement.