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1839 Grand National

The 1839 Grand Liverpool Steeplechase was the first official annual running of a Handicap Steeple-chase, later to become known as the Grand National Steeplechase Horse race which took place at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool on February 26, 1839 and attracted a field of seventeen runners.[1]

Although recorded by the press at the time as the fourth running of the Grand Liverpool, which was renamed the Grand National in 1847, the first three runnings were poorly organised affairs. This year the race came under new management and with the opening of the railway in Liverpool made travel to the course easier.

The race was not run as a handicap chase and therefore all the runners were declared to carry 12 stone.


Competitors and betting

Eighteen runners were declared to run in the race but shortly before the start Jerry was withdrawn. This left the field as follows.

  • 6/1 Favourite The Nun was a 10 year old mare whose rider, Alan McDonough had won the previous year's Grand Liverpool chase. He was taking a record third ride in the race.
  • 7/1 Rust was a 9 year old ridden by Alan McDonough's brother William who was one of fifteen riders not to have competed before.
  • 8/1 Daxon was a 6 year old debut ride for Tom Ferguson
  • 9/1 Lottery was a 9 year old debut ride for Jem Mason
  • 9/1 Railroad was a 6 year old debut ride for A Powell
  • 12/1 Seventy Four was a 6 year old debut ride for Tom Olliver
  • 12/1 Paulina was a 9 year old mare ridden by a Mr Martin
  • 12/1 True Blue was an 8 year old debut ride for P Barker
  • 12/1 Pioneer was an 11 year old debut ride for T Walker
  • 12/1 Jack was a 7 year old debut ride for Henry Wadlow
  • 12/1 Cannon Ball was a 10 year old debut ride for Johnnie Newcombe
  • 20/1 Charity was a 9 year old mare making a debut ride for N Hardy

The remaining competitors were not quoted by the bookmakers and were

  • Barkston, an 11 year old ridden by a Mr Wilmot
  • Cramp, a 6 year old debut ride for Larry Byrne
  • Dictator, a debut ride for Robert Carlin
  • Rambler, an 8 year old debut ride for J Morgan
  • Dan Seffert had weighed out to ride Jerry before the horse was withdrawn shortly before the start.

The Race

The start was situated near to where the modern day Melling Road is and took the runners out into open countryside, jumping a line of natural banks, no more than 2 feet (0.61 m) high before reaching a post and rails over a brook. They then took the runners left towards the Leeds to Liverpool canal, turning sharply to run along the canalside back towards the racecourse, negotiating a second brook along the way. The runners would then enter the racecourse proper at the far end of the circuit to run back towards the stands, jumping a plain fence, known as the 'Made' fence before jumping a wall topped with gorse. The field then took another circuit of the course, this time bypassing the made fence and wall towards the finish line.

Paulina refused the first jump but continued after being put at the fence a second time but the most famous incident of the race occurred at the fence known as the first brook. Captain Becher had taken Conrad into second place at this stage but his mount failed to clear the rails and fell. Becher was forced to dive for cover into the brook itself as the other competitors cleared the obstacle and legend has it that he was heard to tell the spectators that he did not realise how filthy water tasted without the benefit of whisky. Seconds later William McDonough joined Becher in the brook after falling from Rust but it was the captain's name which has ever since been used to describe the fence as Becher's Brook. Both riders remounted but Becher's race ended when his mount fell again at the second brook where both Barkston and Cannon Ball had also fallen. It was one of these horses, while running loose, who ended the hopes of the favourite when The Nun was brought down shortly before rejoining the race course but was remounted by Tom Ferguson while Rust was pulled up before reaching the stands. Charity fell at the wall in front of the stands but was also remounted.

Railroad led at this stage with Lottery in second place but so slow was the pace of the race and so wide the distances between competitors that the favourite The Nun had managed to make up ground to move into third. Seventy-four was fourth ahead of Charity, Paulina, True Blue, Pioneer, Rambler, Dictator, Daxon, Cramp and Jack.

On the second circuit Charity fell before reaching the newly named Becher's Brook for the second time while Dictator fell at the fence situated at the sharp 90 degree turn by the canal but was quickly remounted by Robert Carlin. Daxon and The Nun both fell for a second time at the next fence which was the second brook while Dictator fell for a second time, fatally, before reaching the racecourse.

Jem Mason took Lottery into the lead at Becher's Brook and maintained it to the finish, winning more easily than the three length margin suggested in a time of fourteen minutes and fifty-three seconds, fifty-three seconds outside the course record. Lottery was prepared for the race at the stables of George Dockeray in Epsom, who is loosely regarded as the trainer but most of the preparation was more likely conducted by the owner, Piccadilly horse dealer, John Elmore in whose colours of blue jacket and black cap the jockey rode. Seventy-Four was second, Paulina third and True Blue fourth. Pioneer was on course to finish third when he unseated his rider. Walker quickly remounted but could only manage fifth place.


Although regarded at the time as the fourth running of the Grand Liverpool chase, this running went on to be regarded as the first official running of the race. The finishing order was only loosely recorded in the press as Jack in sixth, The Nun seventh, Railroad eighth, Rambler ninth and Cramp the last of ten to pass the post. Later record books show seven finishers though this is not supported by any press reports of the time. There was also much criticism in the press over the severity of the event, especially the conduct of Robert Carlin in remounting Dictator when witnesses described the horse as distressed. The first fatality in the Grand National was recorded as a burst blood vessel.

Finishing order

position name rider age weight starting price dstance or fate
Winner Lottery Jem Mason 9 12-00 9/1
Second Seventy-Four Tom Olliver 6 12-00 12/1
Third Paulina Mr Martin 9 12-00 12/1
Fourth True Blue P Barker 8 12-00 12/1
Fifth (remounted) Pioneer T Walker 11 12-00 12/1 Fell at the final hurdle
Sixth Jack Henry Wadlow 7 12-00 12/1
Seventh (remounted twice) The Nun Alan McDonough 10 12-00 6/1 fav Brought down on the first circuit, Fell at the second brook on the second circuit
Eighth Railroad A Powell 6 12-00 9/1
Ninth Rambler J Morgan 8 12-00 Not quoted
Tenth Cramp Larry Byrne 6 12-00 Not quoted
Non finishers
Rust William McDonough 9 12-00 7/1 Fell at the first brook, remounted but pulled up after one circuit
Conrad Captain Martin Becher 11 12-00 20/1 Fell at the first brook, remounted but fell again at the second brook
Barkston Mr Wilmot 11 12-00 Not quoted Fell at the second brook
Cannon Ball Johnnie Newcombe 10 12-00 12/1 Fell at the second brook
Charity N Hardy 9 12-00 20/1 Fell at the wall and then again early on the second circuit
Daxon Tom Ferguson 6 12-00 8/1 Fell at the second brook on the second circuit
Dictator Robert Carlin 12-00 Not quoted Fell fatally at the second brook on the second circuit


  1. Patricia Erigero Thoroughbred Heritage. "Lottery". Archived from the original on 2009-05-03. http://www.webcitation.org/5gVUuEC62. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 


Irish Newsletter 1839

Liverpool Mercury 1839

The Times 1839


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