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Top Tier: The Grand National’s Most Successful Trainers, and How the Race Became Their Life

Of all the major horse races that take place across the UK and Ireland each year, the Grand National stands alone. The ultimate endurance test of horse and jockey, it’s everyone’s dream to win the Aintree Festival showpiece, and that includes the men and women who train the dozens of horses that take part. 

Last year, Henry de Bromhead became the latest trainer to become a Grand National winner, as Minella Times stormed to an impressive victory with the irrepressible Rachael Blackmore on board. It was De Bromhead’s maiden success, but there are a handful of trainers who know what it’s like to taste Grand National glory on multiple occasions. 

Here, we’ve put together a list of trainers who have enjoyed special success at the Grand National, and have become horse racing legends as a result. 

George Dockeray

The first person on our list is the legendary George Dockeray, who enjoyed Grand National success in the mid-1800s. Dockeray was a successful flat racing jockey for a number of years, and earned victories in the Ascot Gold Cup, Epsom Derby and Epsom Oaks to name just a few.

That experience helped him become a hugely successful trainer, and his crowning moments in the sport came in the form of his four Grand National triumphs. The first two of these came when Lottery won successive Nationals in the 1839 and 1840 renewals. Two years later, Dockeray was at it again, as Gaylad charged to victory in the 1842 race. 

Dockeray had to wait another 10 years for his fourth and final Grand National success, which came with Miss Mowbray in 1852. 

Fred Rimell

Another man who had the pleasure of saddling four Grand National winners, Fred Rimell is a horse racing icon. Similar to Dockeray, Rimell was a jockey of some repute and then transitioned into one of the country’s finest trainers. 

His most impressive achievements came at Aintree, of course, where he became the only man to saddle four different winners of the race. The first of these was ESB in 1956, and then three further successes followed with Nicolaus Silver in 1961, Gay Trip in 1970 and Rag Trade in 1976. 

When you consider that Rimell’s Grand National wins encompassed a period of 20 years, it’s no wonder he earned the nickname ‘Mr Grand National.’ 

Ginger McCain

For many, the Grand National boils down to two words: Red Rum. The famous horse won the Aintree showpiece on three occasions between 1973 and 1977, and much of that success is down to the outstanding work of trainer Ginger McCain, a name synonymous with Grand National glory.

Red Rum’s first victory came in 1973, and he backed it up a year later with another sensational triumph. Three years later, despite many thinking he didn’t have it in him to complete a hat-trick of Nationals, Red Rum triumphed again.

Of course, Red Rum is not McCain’s only claim to Grand National legend status. 30 years after his maiden success, he won the 2004 edition of the marathon contest with Amberleigh House, cementing his position as one of the sport’s elite trainers.

Vincent O’Brien

There are several horse racing trainers with three Grand National wins to their name, and we feel Vincent O’Brien deserves a special mention. The Irishman achieved the rare feat of saddling the winner of three consecutive Grand Nationals, with a different horse winning the race each time.

The spell of success began in 1953, when Early Mist was led to victory by jockey Bryan Marshall. The same rider was on board for Royal Tan’s victory a year later, before famous Irish jockey Pat Taaffe guided Quare Times to O’Brien’s third Grand National triumph on the trot.

O’Brien’s achievement is unlikely to be replicated given the competitive nature of modern horse racing, and that’s why he deserves special recognition.

Gordon Elliott

It seems appropriate to have one of the star trainers of today on our list of Grand National legends, and who better than Gordon Elliott? The Irishman boasts three winners in the Aintree showpiece, two of which came with the legendary Tiger Roll, who has just been retired from racing following a sterling showing at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. 

However, Elliott’s first win in the Grand National came with Silver Birch back in 2007. It wasn’t until 2018 that Tiger Roll came to the fore, winning two successive Grand Nationals to bring Elliott to the forefront of National Hunt racing. Those who bet on horses could always count on Tiger Roll to give a strong account of himself.

Unfortunately, a dispute between Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary and the handicappers for the Grand National have seen the horse denied a crack at his hat-trick attempt, but Elliott deserves plenty of credit for his victories nonetheless.