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Valiant Warrior, veteran of the Monday National, dies aged 30

15th February 2018

Valiant Warrior, one of the 36 horses who contested the famous Monday evening Grand National of 1997, died earlier this week at the age of 30.

Having started out with Henry Candy, Valiant Warrior came to us in late 1991 shortly after finishing fourth in the November Handicap and he went on to be a fantastic servant, winning a novice hurdle and eight races over fences during the next five years in the colours of his owner, Paul Sellars.

Valiant Warrior’s biggest win came in a two and a half mile handicap chase at Newcastle on Eider Chase day in 1996, but his best performance probably came a couple of weeks later when he beat some classy rivals, including subsequent Grade 3 runner up Go Universal, under a big weight at Doncaster. He was in the form of his life that spring but he regularly held his own in good company at the top tracks, running in the 1992 Triumph Hurdle and beating the legendary One Man at level weights over hurdles at Wetherby.

When we think of Valiant Warrior, though, we can’t help but think of that dramatic Saturday at Aintree when he was all set to line up alongside our other runner, Pink Gin, in the 150th running of the world’s greatest steeplechase.

The first three races on the card had already been run when the police received two threats by telephone, both using recognised IRA codewords, that at least one bomb had been planted within the racecourse. With some horses already saddled up and in the parade ring for the National, the entire course was evacuated, leaving 60,000 racegoers stranded on the streets and around 100 horses locked away in the racecourse stables on their own.

Aintree racecourse is evacuated on the day of the 1997 Grand National

After negotiations between the RSPCA, racecourse officials and the police, yard staff were eventually allowed back into the stable area to rescue their horses and Valiant Warrior and Pink Gin duly arrived back at Tupgill Park late that evening, their big day not exactly having gone to plan.

It’s now passed into racing folklore, of course, that the sport refused to give in to the terrorists, who at the time were doing their utmost to create havoc in the lead up to the 1997 General Election. An estimated 20,000 people turned up at Aintree two days later to watch the rearranged race, which was held at 5pm and was won in impressive style by 14/1 shot Lord Gyllene, trained by Steve Brookshaw and ridden by Tony Dobbin, who made most to beat Suny Bay by 25 lengths. Valiant Warrior, partnered by Russ Garritty, showed up really well for a long way but weakened in the closing stages and faded into tenth place, while Pink Gin finished 14th under amateur Chris Bonner.

Lord Gyllene and Tony Dobbin lead Suny Bay (right) in the closing stages of the Monday National

Valiant Warrior jumped the big fences for fun, he finished a close third to Samlee in the Becher Chase a few months later and we took him back to Liverpool again for the following year’s John Hughes Trophy (now the Topham Chase). He went there in great shape, having won at Newcastle twelve days earlier, but on that occasion the ground at Aintree would have been too testing for him and he didn’t run.

Valiant Warrior ran in eight more races for Jedd O’Keeffe, including the 2000 Aintree Foxhunters’ Chase where he fell at the first, and he was retired in 2001 with eleven career wins and over £73,000 in prize money to his name.

Valiant Warrior (red & yellow) clears the Chair as Celtic Abbey unships Richard Johnson in the 1997 National

We always hope that racehorses have a long and happy retirement and Valiant Warrior had just that, living with the Sellars family near Wetherby for the best part of sixteen years before coming back to Middleham last October. He spent the winter with our useful hurdler Swinton Diamond but his health had begun to deteriorate, he had problems with his heart and sadly we had to have him put to sleep on Monday.

We wouldn’t hesitate to say that Valiant Warrior was one of the best horses we’ve trained, he lived up to his name and even though he never really knew it, he was part of a little piece of racing history when he ran in that Monday National 21 years ago.

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