We all have ‘favourites’. Whether it’s a favourite song, or colour or dare I say it even a person. Of course in the sport of kings that translates to a favourite jockey, trainer, owner, you get the idea. What elevates one above another is a question with a thousand possible answers. In racing it may well be a jockey that has managed to grind out a win for you that places them on a pedestal, or a trainer that’s generous with the level of detail in his pre and post race assessments, hopefully to your financial benefit down the line.
It’s a little harder, for me anyway, to hone in on what makes a horse one that I cheer on or remember fondly above all others. Grit? Determination? An underdog story? A legend of the sport, such as Red Rum? I do know though that I don’t tend to go for the obvious, much in the same way that some people suddenly support whoever’s top of the Premier League, whereas others would never dream of it. One stand out horse for me though, would have to be Grand National winner Corbiere.
Although not quite on a par with the legendary Red Rum, Corbiere was nevertheless one of the best Grand National horses of his generation. Named after a Jersey lighthouse, Corbiere will always be remembered as the horse that resulted in Jenny Pitman the first woman to saddle a Grand National winner. That’s heartening to know as we’re pondering 2020 Grand National tips to follows. What is, perhaps, less well remembered is that ‘Corky’, as he was affectionately known to his connections, did so under 11st 4lb, as an eight-year-old in his first season over fences, and making his first appearance at Aintree.
Of course, Corbiere had also won the Welsh National at Chepstow and finished second in the Ritz Club National Hunt Handicap Chase en route to Aintree in 1983. That doesn’t in any way take away from the achievement of winning the National though. The chestnut gelding went on to run creditably on three of his four subsequent appearances in the Grand National. In 1984, he finished third behind Hallo Dandy, in 1985 he finished third, again, behind Last Suspect and, following an uncharacteristic fall at the fourth fence – considered one of the hardest fences to jump, along with Becher’s Brook – in 1986, he finished twelfth behind Maori Venture in 1987. A collection of efforts over the years that stand out from the crowd – and against top class opposition too.
However, it was certainly his performance under 23-year-old jockey Ben De Haan in 1983 that was to carve his name, indelibly, into Aintree folklore. A little one-paced, but a brilliant, enthusiastic jumper blessed with an abundance of stamina, Corbiere relished the prevailing soft going and was one of just four horses in contention turning for home. At the final fence, he held a three-length lead over Greasepaint, but then came with a strong late run inside the last hundred yards or so and, as they crossed the line, Corbiere had just three-quarters of a length to spare. Another Irish challenger, Yer Man, finished third, but fully 20 lengths behind the front pair.
In fact, many understandably hold a fondness for Corbiere. He even has his own postage stamp (putting him in fine company) in Jersey, due to the aforementioned Lighthouse connection!