|Owner||1) Anne, Duchess of Westminster
2) Cyril Watkins
|Grand National (1967)|
|Last updated on 19 January 2008|
Foinavon (1958–1971) was an undistinguished Irish racehorse, until he won the Grand National in 1967 after the rest of the field fell, refused or were hampered or brought down in a mêlée at the 23rd fence. The fence was officially named after Foinavon in 1984.
1967 Grand National
Foinavon, ridden by John Buckingham, was a rank outsider at odds of 100/1 to win the 1967 Grand National, and his owner Cyril Watkins had such little belief in his chances that he was not even at the course.
For the first circuit and a half, Foinavon played no real part in the proceedings, in which 28 of the 44 starters had safely survived past the 22nd fence (Becher's Brook). However, the most dramatic moment of the race, and perhaps of Grand National history, came when a loose horse — Popham Down, who had been hampered and unseated his rider at the first fence — veered dramatically to his right at the 23rd fence, slamming into Rutherfords and unseating his jockey Johnny Leech. A pile-up ensued. Rondetto, Norther, Kirtle Lad, Princeful, Leedsy and other horses hit the ground, then began running up and down the fence preventing others from jumping it, and bringing the race effectively to a halt. Some horses even began running in the wrong direction, back the way they had come.
Foinavon had been lagging so far behind that Buckingham had time to steer his mount clear of the chaos and jump on the wide outside, long before any of the others could remount or attempt the fence again. At the next obstacle, the Canal Turn, Buckingham looked back in disbelief at the 30-length lead he held with just six fences remaining. 17 remounted horses gave chase, and 15/2 favourite Honey End closed the gap to within 20 lengths by the final fence, but Foinavon was able to maintain this lead over the run-in. Red Alligator, who went on to win in 1968, was a distant third.
The incident is almost always replayed on Grand National day, and it has also gained fame owing to the distinctive commentary of Michael O'Hehir. After the race, O'Hehir suggested that with obstacles like Becher's Brook and Valentine's Brook, the 23rd might one day be named after Foinavon. In 1984, the Aintree executive officially named the 7th/23rd fence (the smallest on the course at 4 ft 6 in) the Foinavon fence.
Irish commentator Michael O'Hehir was better known as a Gaelic football commentator but often covered racing and was brought in to cover the race at the far end of the course, going to Becher's Brook and coming away from Valentine's. His commentary of the carnage at the 23rd fence ranks among the most famous in the history of BBC televised sport and is often shown when BBC Sport puts together nostalgic montages of great sporting moments. O'Hehir received particular respect from his peers for the speed and unflustered coolness with which he identified Foinavon as the horse emerging from the mêlée. O'Hehir later said in an interview that it was precisely the unfamiliarity of Foinavon's colours that made him so instantly recognisable during the race. O'Hehir visited the weighing room before the race, as is the custom of many National commentators, to familiarise himself more clearly with the colours of the silks but found himself completely stumped when looking at the black with red and yellow braces being worn by John Buckingham. Eventually O'Hehir had to ask Buckingham who his mount was. A confused O'Hehir said that his racecard showed two-tone green quarters for Foinavon, as worn by the rider in the Cheltenham Gold Cup a few weeks earlier, but Buckingham explained that the owner felt green to be unlucky and so had registered new colours for the National.
A similar incident occurred in 2001 when Red Marauder won the race from Smarty after they were left clear following a pile up at the Canal Turn on the first circuit, and after the other remaining horses fell or were brought down by the 20th fence.
- Foinavon Horse Pedigree
- The Field Folds for Foinavon The Guardian
- "Grand National History 1960-69". The-grand-national.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
- Michael O' Hehir's Foinavon Commentary RTÉ.ie
- "BBC Sport - Horse Racing - The story of Foinaven's 1967 Grand National victory". BBC News. 2010-04-10. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
-  Michael O'Hehir explains his meeting with John Buckingham before the '67 National
- Armytage, Marcus (2007-04-13). "Mayhem made Foinavon famous". Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
- 2001 Aintree Grand National - Red Marauder[dead link] YouTube
- 1928 Grand National YouTube