Let’s be honest, no-one saw it coming. But for amateur jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, what better way to end a career than with a win in the National Hunt’s biggest race – the Grand National.
At pre-race odds of 50/1, Noble Yeats certainly wasn’t fancied amongst those horse racing betting, but the Aintree fences are notoriously unforgiving. And while the favourite, Any Second Now not only completed the course but contended the lead, the Ted Walsh-trained gelding could only place for a second year running, providing that fairytale finale for all those associated with Noble Yeats – a family affair, with Sam’s father Robert Waley-Cohen owning the horse.
And that’s the beauty of the Grand National – it’s wonderfully unpredictable. Although you could virtually guarantee that not all 40 horses in the bumper field would clean the first fence (Mount Ida and Enjoy D’allen, we’re looking at you)!
So, while we revel in the feat of Noble Yeats becoming the ninth horse in the last 10 renewals of the National to defy the odds and win the epic steeplechase, let’s have a look back at some of the other horses – at equally as long odds – who’ve made the history books in recent years.
2016: Rule The World
There were joint-favourites going into the 2016 renewal, Many Clouds and The Last Samuri – and the two were dominant throughout. Rule The World, trained by Mouse Morris was a mere 50/1 outsider, who began making steady progress at the final turn and snuck into contention after the last fence, consolidating third place. But at the elbow, the front three of Rule The World, The Last Samuri, and 100/1 long-shot, Vics Canvas were virtually level – and David Mullins in the saddle for the eventual winner pulled ahead in the final furlongs, winning by six lengths.
Remarkably, Mullins was just 19 years of age when he won the National, and his ride, Rule The World had never won a steeplechase before! The horse was retired at the age of 9, after suffering several pelvic injuries.
2013: Auroras Encore
It could have been a family affair, with Katie Walsh becoming the first female jockey to ride a favourite in the National, aboard Seabass, while brother Ruby was the second-favourite, riding On His Own. The latter fell on the second circuit at Valentine’s Brook – while 66/1 hopeful Auroras Encore spoilt the party, regardless.
Ryan Mania had been in the saddle for the Sue Smith-trained horse, featuring in his first Grand National – having previously lost by a head in the Scottish counterpart, at Ayr. It wasn’t until the 25th fence that Auroras Encore had emerged into third place, and took the lead after the final fence, with Chicago Grey pulling up, and Mumbles Head refusing. The duo’s advantage was extended in the run-in, and the unfancied chance eventually won by 9 lengths. Mania retired the following year, before making a shock return in 2019.
2012: Neptune Collonges
There was a thrilling finish to the 2012 National, as a photo-finish decided things. Neptunes Collonges (33/1), ridden by Daryl Jacob eventually won it by a nose over the 16/1 Sunnyhillboy – as connections, racegoers, and viewers at home waited in baited breathe for almost two minutes before the judge’s official announcement was declared over the tannoy. It remains the closest winning distance in National history. Not only that, but Neptunes Collonges became the third grey to win the iconic race – and is the last winner, to date.
Victory was sweet for trainer Paul Nicholls, who landed his first win in the Aintree centrepiece. Interestingly, it remains the 10-time Champion Trainer’s only victory.