Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Book Review: Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National's Biggest Upset

Wednesday June 6 2018

Jump racing makes me cringe, but I can't help being fascinated by it. The Grand National Steeplechase, held every year (usually in April) since 1839, at Aintree Racecourse in Aintree, Liverpool, England, is the granddaddy of them all.

Four miles 514 yards, 30 fences, none under 4' 6", except the water jump, at a height of 2' 6".

Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National's Biggest Upset, by David Owen, was a most excellent read. This 100-1 shot pulled off the win in a terrifically chaotic race in 1967. (In his previous race, one bookmaker had him at 500-1; he finished last.)

Pat, in the pink, my Irish jockey friend in a National Hunt race
I worked in an Irish National Hunt yard one winter (chapter 2 in my book Soul Deep in Horses) and same thing: I was fascinated, but watching our horses run over the jumps made me cringe, hold my breath, and heave a sigh of great relief when they returned to the stables. Our horses did have a fall or two… frightening for me, but all in a day's ride for the jumping horses and jockeys… and none were seriously hurt. 
our horse Castle Ranger almost tipping over on the landing, jockey loses reins; Ranger tumbles at the next fence but was unhurt

But I was captivated by this terrifically-written tale that for me was bigger than life, knowing Foinavon ran at some of the racecourses our horses ran over, and knowing exactly what these astounding athletic animals go through, as well as the people who work with them.

David Owen's storytelling reminds me a lot of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit: thorough, engaging, and could not put it down till the end! 

(And then I found Foinavon's race on youtube... watch it after you read the book!)
one of the bigger National Hunt fences

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