Given that the Grand National, which takes place on April 10, is a celebration of the best of the best in horse racing, it’s amazing how much of an impact amateur jockeys have on proceedings.
A number of ‘grassroots’ riders won the National back in the early days of the race, and, while victories for non-professionals in the Aintree showpiece have been few and far between since, amateurs still play a key role in the race. Marcus Armytage achieved the unthinkable when he won the Grand National aboard Mr Frisk in 1990, and that secured his connections a mammoth payday – Armytage, incidentally, earned next to nothing.
Grand National Greats: We take a look at the winner of the 1990 Grand National, Mr Frisk, the last horse to have been ridden to glory in the race by an amateur > https://t.co/AdLlyxMUir pic.twitter.com/to3JZ8bFEs
— Timeform Live (@TimeformLive) April 10, 2018
And who can forget when Kate Walsh led the 2012 edition until the latter stages, where her mount Seabass faded and ended up finishing third?
Of course, the Grand National odds are determined by a couple of factors – perhaps, most principally, the handicap weight that each horse must carry, however, the jockey on board will also play a part in how a runner’s chances are perceived.
Having been temporarily barred from the sport – a decision which saw amateur jockeys miss out on competing at the world-famous Cheltenham Festival – they have since returned and will be allowed to compete at the Grand National.
So, who are the premier amateur jockeys to keep a focus on?
Being the son of the most prolific trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival has to be considered a major plus – particularly when you are a jockey.
But Patrick Mullins hasn’t needed the nepotism of his father Willie to get ahead in racing, and indeed, given his talents, he would surely have made it in the game anyway.
That said, he would have been a huge favorite in the sportsbook odds for that trio of amateur races mentioned, and, what’s more, he was also expected to take the saddle of Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper – a horse that went on to win with an eye-catching performance.
Mullins decided not to turn professional in order to compete at Cheltenham, but he will get his chance at the big time at Aintree when he climbs aboard one of his father’s five declared runners.
Not only is Jamie Codd considered one of the finest amateur jockeys in history, but he is also something of a Cheltenham Festival specialist having ridden ten winners at the event – only three professionals currently in the sport have landed more.
It’s a shame that he didn’t have the chance to add to his haul, and, when the question of turning professional was raised – that would have allowed Codd to compete at the meeting – he was unequivocal in his response. “I won’t be turning professional, but I will be cheering on all the Irish horses from home,” he said.
Three time Cheltenham Festival winner and Grand National runner-up Cause Of Causes has been retired, Frank Berry has confirmed.
We wish him a long and happy retirement! pic.twitter.com/KI4MCx5lOl
— Timeform (@Timeform) April 9, 2018
In 2017, Codd guided Cause of Causes to second place in the Grand National, so even though he is an amateur he has excellent pedigree in this race.
He is one of the most decorated point-to-point riders in Ireland, with more than 1,000 winners to his name.
No wonder that Derek O’Connor is so highly respected then, and he has become a key part of Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham squad over the years.
But not this year, and like Codd he has no qualms about not turning pro. “Being professional has never ever crossed my mind,” O’Connor has said. “I have always had a huge love of point-to-point racing.”
The Irishman has competed in the National before and has won at the Aintree meeting, albeit in a different race.
It’s staggering that Sam Waley-Cohen has decided to retain his amateur status despite all of his achievements in racing.
Despite his limited rides, the 38-year-old has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the King George Chase, and finished at an outstanding fifth in the Grand National aboard Liberthine.
But he remains a successful businessman, with various ventures across the UK, and so, dividing his time between his professional pursuit – and his amateur, albeit outstanding, hobby – works for him.
Back in 2007, Waley-Cohen finished fifth in the Grand National aboard Liberthine, a horse owned by his father Robert.
Who knows, maybe 2021 will be the year an amateur wins the Grand National once again?