The Grand Nationals at the Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside are the holy grail of steeplechase and in the equestrian world it is a race not to be missed! The first race at Aintree was run in 1839 and the National 10 years later. All fences are covered in spruce and it is run on soft ground making it all the more challenging. Prince Charles’ great-great grandfather, Edward VII, won the Grand National in 1900 with his horse Ambush II.
They had stayed in Merseyside the night before at the Earl of Derby’s grand ancestral pile, Knowsley Hall, and they watched the race get underway from the balcony above the Earl’s private box. They were joined by Judy Gaselee, the wife of Nick Gaselee, Prince Charles’ horse trainer and racing confidante.
For Diana, the Liverpool Echo, below, reported it was her last public engagement before giving birth to Prince William in June 1982. The Liverpool Echo provides a great account below: What happened that day? Let’s recount the action of that historic race! BBC Commentator Peter O’Sullevan from Ireland describes the climax of the 1982 National: “And it’s 48 year old Dick Saunders on Grittar from Hard Outlook. Grittar strides into the final furlong and is already being acclaimed as the National Hero of 1982. Frank Gilman’s Grittar strides up to the line to win it in fantastic style… Grittar wins the National!” It was an historic win in the racing world this particular year. The Grand Nationals are racing’s jewel. This was a tough race. The 1982 Sun Grand National was the 136th renewal of the world-famous horse race that took place at the Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, Merseyside, England, on 3 April 1982. An estimated crowd of 85,000 attended. The race was won by 7/1 favourite Grittar, ridden to a 15-length victory by amateur Dick Saunders, who at the age of 48 became, and remains, the oldest jockey to have won the Grand National. Grittar won in a time of 9 minutes and 12.6 seconds winning a prize of £52,507 for his owner. Nine year old Grittar was owned and trained by Frank H Gilman and ridden by amateur jockey Dick Saunders. Saunders and Grittar were making their debut in the race. Saunders retired after the race and became chairman of the Aintree stewards. Grittar finished fifth in the next year’s National and 10th in 1984. The horse retired to his owner’s Leicestershire base and died aged 25 in 1998. The race became famous on a wider scale as a retirement cue from the saddle for Northampton farmer Dick Saunders. He passed away in January 2002 at the age of 68 from cancer. Though still an amateur, Saunders was on a par with most professionals. The pair also finished sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup won by Silver Buck in that momentous season. Steve Marshall was the man who worked as assistant trainer and head lad to Frank Gilman, the owner, at the tiny village of Morcott. Marshall drove the horse-box home from Liverpool that night and celebrated at The White Horse into the wee small hours.
The race was also notable for being the first in which a female jockey, Geraldine Rees, completed the course. She rode Cheers to eighth and last place. Miss Rees said that Cheers was ”stone cold” as they came toward the end. ”I was determined to finish,” she said. ”I could hear everyone shouting, ‘Go on, go on!’ but he had almost nothing left. He just managed to get over the last two fences. Coming up to the finish line, he was absolutely exhausted, and so was I.” At the end of the race, Prince Charles continued on to Knowsley to tour the Kirkby Sports Centre complex. Diana wore a deep wine red wool mohair coat with matching hat and a blue, ruffle collar maternity dress by The Chelsea Design Group, Catherine Walker’s company at the time.