Only five years ago Jay Trump, the American-bred, -owned and-ridden winner of the 117th and perhaps last Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree, was a rogue, trained as a flat racer rather than a jumper, and considered so dangerous that jockeys were reluctant to accept him as a mount. He never, in fact, amounted to anything as a flat racer, even in such undistinguished company as might be found at Charles Town and Shenandoah Downs, where he was unable to break his maiden. He first showed ability to jump on the day he turned bad actor. An exercise rider, trying to correct a tendency of the horse to drift out, whipped him on the right side of the head and accidentally struck his eye. Jay Trump thereupon jumped over the inside rail, cutting his right foreleg so severely that 29 stitches were needed to close the wound. His owner, Jay Sensenich, even considered destroying him.
For a long time thereafter, Jay Trump was a common danger. Until, that is, Crompton (Tommy) Smith, an amateur jockey from an old Middleburg, Va. foxhunting and steeplechasing family, came along. He had been commissioned to spend a few dollars to buy a likely timber horse for his godmother, Mrs. Mary C. Stephenson of Cincinnati, and he purchased Jay Trump from the discouraged Sensenich for $2,000. There was little to recommend Jay Trump except that the price was right.
Today, aside from the fact that he does not like crowds of horses near him and in the Grand National refused to move up to the front before the start because there were 46 other horses bothering his desire for freedom of movement, Jay Trump is as amenable a fellow as one could hope to meet—well-mannered, obedient and eager to oblige. Smith had gentled him and won his confidence with a long course of fox hunting—so successfully that, together, they won two Maryland Hunt Cups. In 1963 they set the record for the race.
In winning the Grand National, at odds ranging from 12 to 1 to 17 to 1—depending on whether and when one bet with bookmakers or the tote—Jay Trump enriched hundreds of Americans who had journeyed from the U.S. to Aintree in full confidence that he would win. Marylanders among them were especially optimistic, so much so that some required police escorts to get them safely away from the track with their winnings. Bookmakers were badly scorched. Turf Accountant William Hill alone reported a record Grand National payout of $1,384,000 on the big bay gelding, highest for the race in his firm's history. And the value of the race to Mrs. Stephenson was $61,714. Next move for Jay Trump is to the Grand Steeplechase de Paris at Auteuil in June.
For all its fame and history, the Grand National is such a difficult race that only a few of the very top steeplechasers are entered. In this year's running, for instance, the best steeplechaser in Britain and, for that matter, the whole world, an Irish-bred horse named Arkle, was not entered. Owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, and trained in Ireland by Tom Dreaper, Arkle has won 19 of his 23 races since he started running under National Hunt Rules in the 1961-62 season. Another celebrated British jumper, Mill House, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1963 and has finished second to Arkle twice in that event, was entered but was weighted so heavily in the handicapping that he was withdrawn.
Even so, it is a magnificent challenge to horse and rider, the greatest that exists on the turf. Of Saturday's 47 starters only 14 finished the course. Most of the race was the usual scramble, and at times it was a shambles, with horses falling and running wild and thrown riders cringing away from hooves that thundered all about them. Jay Trump himself stepped on a fallen rider, who was lucky enough to escape with cracked ribs. Five jockeys were hospitalized, but with relatively minor injuries.
The 27-year-old Tommy Smith is a grandson of Harry Worcester Smith, a famed Virginia sportsman who once took his entire household—all his servants, stable staff, carriages and a pack of hounds—to Ireland for a season of fox hunting. Some of that love of the chase gleams in young Smith's eyes. Scars from two automobile accidents are livid on his forehead, and the marks of hunting spills are on his body, but Jay Trump never has fallen with him.
Two days before the Grand National, Smith walked the course with Mrs. Stephenson and Trainer Fred Winter, who rode in more than 4,000 races over a period of 17 years. Fourteen of those races were Grand Nationals, of which he won two.
Examining the turf, Winter expressed concern that the footing was "a bit deep." Jay Trump is accustomed to firm sod, as in his native America. (It rained intermittently right up to the day of the race, when the course was graced with a strong, drying wind. That was Jay Trump's first piece of good luck.) After examining such dangerous jumps as Becher's Brook and The Chair, the party came finally to the last fence. Smith climbed onto its top and tested it for hardness. He spread-eagled himself over it and said, "It feels a little softer than the others." That was perhaps the key discovery of the day. It turned out to be another piece of luck for Jay Trump.
The Hunt Cup fences are of hard, unyielding timber. The Grand National jumps are of hard, unyielding thorn, covered with deceptively soft-looking spruce, fir or gorse, and in some cases have a foundation of timber. However they may look, no horse can expect to jump low and brush his way through the top cover. And so Jay Trump's experience in Maryland served him well. He learned there to respect fences and clear them cleanly. But when Smith noted the relative softness of the last jump, he made a decision that won him the race.
He had prepared in other ways than by walking the course. There is a belief among horsemen that the best way to train for racing is by racing, and he had been criticized because he had ridden Jay Trump in only five races before the National, winning three of them, and had refused to ride other horses in other races. Instead, he bicycled, weight-lifted and, for interminable hours over a five-month period, studied movies of previous Grand Nationals. He had no wish to risk injury in preparing for a race that represented a life's ambition.
On the afternoon before the National, Smith and his wife went appropriately to a Frank Sinatra movie entitled None but the Brave. He was in bed by 7:30 p.m., for he is a prodigious sleeper. Just before saddling time the riders sipped the customary cup, a mixture of champagne and orange juice called a fifty-fifty. The paddock area was jammed with spectators anxious to see the horses and the Queen Mother, who had entered a horse of her own, The Rip. The Rip ran well but finished seventh. The Queen Mother appeared in the walking ring wearing a costume of very light turquoise, studied the circling horses knowingly and repaired to the Royal Box.
Smith said afterward that the race was a "blur" to him, but he remembered some details well. He had a hard time getting into the line, because of Jay Trump's reluctance to mingle with other horses, and when the tape went up he was left two lengths behind. Fred Winter had instructed him to "get inside and stay there," and so he pulled his horse back and moved to the inside position. Mrs. Stephenson's only instruction, which she gives before every race, was to "get around safely."
"A horse fell in front of meat the third fence after the Canal Turn," said Smith, "and my horse stepped on the rider. It almost made me sick. I've never been in so much bedlam."
In due course it appeared the race would be among Jay Trump, Peace-town and the 7-to-2 favorite, Freddie, the pride of Scotland, though other well-regarded mounts like Rondetto, Kapeno and Vultrix were doing well for a time. Horses were falling, or refusing, or being pulled up, and when they came to the Canal Turn for the second time (the 4½ mile race is twice around the course) the field had thinned out so that, as Smith said, "I was able to pick my fences and ride a normal race." He began to make his move at The Elbow, as the turn into the stretch is called.
Peacetown tired and fell back, giving way to Mr. Jones, who finished third. With but two fences to go, Freddie and Jay Trump were side by side. With only one to go, they were pretty much the same, though Jay Trump gained a trifle on the penultimate jump. Then Smith gambled on the knowledge he had gained in walking the course. He asked Jay Trump for a "very quick fence."
A quick fence is one in which a horse flattens out and takes the jump with a low trajectory. Against hard fences like those at Aintree, it can be dangerous. If the horse miscalculates he cannot just brush through the top. He collides with an unyielding wall.
Jay Trump responded, forelegs straight out in front of him, hind legs straight out behind him. He cleared the fence, gaining perhaps three-quarters of a length on Freddie, who took the jump with a normal high bound. And three-quarters of a length was the margin by which Jay Trump won, though not without a desperate struggle in the flat run to the finish. Jay Trump gained even more ground because he was able to recover quickly from his long, low jump, but Freddie had to come back from his almost vertical descent. Once down and running, Freddie—whipped on by Rider Pat McCarron—closed on his rival at an extremely threatening rate. He drove on until his nose was alongside the withers of the American horse. But he could not pass him. Jay Trump crossed the finish line a clear winner of one of the most thrilling Grand Nationals ever raced. The last American-bred horse to win was Battleship, who did it 27 years ago. The last amateur to win was Captain Bobby Petre on Lovely Cottage in 1946. But Tommy Smith was the first American jockey to win on an American horse.
The decision as to whether this is to be the last Grand National, a race that goes back in history to 1839 and has been run every year since except during two world wars, rests with Parliament, the courts and Aintree's owner, Mrs. Mirabel Topham, 74, a former showgirl who once played leggy parts in musical comedy. She is the widow of Arthur Topham, grandson of the man who took over the race in 1849. A few years ago she concluded that it had become unprofitable and decided to sell the track to a real estate development company. Crowds, though their size never is announced officially, had thinned in postwar years, in part because Mrs. Topham sold television rights to the BBC and a punter could see it all in his living room better than at the track and, furthermore, place his bet simply by telephoning his bookmaker.
But the Earl of Sefton, one of the race's four stewards, and the man who sold the track to Tophams Ltd., obtained an injunction restraining the firm from selling the land during his lifetime for purposes other than horse racing. Mrs. Topham is appealing and, if necessary, will take her case to the House of Lords. Meanwhile, others are interested. Crockford's, the leading London gambling club, announced last year that it would make an offer to buy Aintree and keep the Grand National going there if the government would allow it to run a sweepstake on the race. Since then Tim Holland, Crockford's chairman, has been a prime mover behind a parliamentary bill that would let him proceed with his plan. On its second reading it passed the Lords (March 16) by 62 votes to 46. It will have its third reading soon and, if passed, must then go through three readings in Commons. In any case, Mrs. Topham, contemplating the crowds that thronged to the track for the "last" running on Saturday (there may have been better than 100,000 present), allowed that she herself might hold another Grand National Steeplechase next year.
Let us hope so, though Aintree is by no means a lovely establishment. It is ugly and graceless. In the dank restaurant water condensation on the ceiling drips into the champagne of uncomplaining lords and their ladies. "When it isn't raining outside," a waitress explained, "it's raining in here." The stands and fences are painted with cheap stuff that rubs off on clothing.
But who is complaining? The race itself is one of the world's great sporting events, with a long and noble tradition behind it. It would be deplorable if—like Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and other shrines—it should end as a victim of the population explosion. Housing developments can be established almost anywhere. The Grand National can be run only at Aintree.