It is 30 years since Rhyme ‘N’ Reason claimed Grand National glory for Brendan Powell, who remembers it like it was yesterday.
A previous winner of the Irish Grand National in 1985, David Elsworth’s charge lined up on Merseyside as a leading contender for the world’s most famous steeplechase having won races at Sandown, Windsor and the Racing Post Chase at Kempton earlier that season.
He was still in contention when coming to grief in the Cheltenham Gold Cup won by Charter Party the month before Aintree and Powell feels the story could have been very different but for that fall.
“It does seem a long time ago, but it’s hard to believe it’s 30 years,” recalled Powell.
“Rhyme ‘N’ Reason wasn’t the best of jumpers, he could be a bit careful. I still say to this day he would have won the Gold Cup that year – he was cantering when he came down.
“If he had won the Gold Cup he probably wouldn’t have run in the National, so it’s funny how these things work out.”
Rhyme ‘N’ Reason gave his supporters a rollercoaster ride.
He looked out of contention when a terrible blunder jumping Becher’s Brook the first time relegated him to the rear of the field and even Powell admits he thought his goose was cooked.
He continued: “I had a terrible record in the National. I think I broke my arm the first time I rode round there and I only got round twice, the rest were all fallers or pulled up.
“At Becher’s Rhyme ‘N’ Reason did the splits and sat down and I thought that was our chance gone.
“He was very careful then at the next fence and at that stage I thought I’d just hunt away and try and get round.”
However, Elsworth’s ace remarkably recovered his position and was left in front after Little Polveir, the following year’s National hero, unseated Tom Morgan five fences from the finish.
Rhyme ‘N’ Reason looked booked for minor honours when the strong-travelling Durham Edition moved ominously alongside and kicked clear, but there was another twist in the plot as Rhyme ‘N’ Reason rallied and got back up to wrest the spoils.
Powell said: “The thing about Rhyme ‘N’ Reason was you didn’t want to be in front on him for too long. I was getting a lovely lead into the race from Little Polveir and then he came down so I was left in front way too soon.
“Chris Grant came up cantering behind me (on Durham Edition) and it would have been carnage if there was in-running betting in those days, but passing the elbow my horse decided he’d chase him down and in the end he won going away.”
Powell remembers the rest of the day and that evening with fondness.
He added: “It was an amazing feeling, but I must be the only jockey ever to win the National and then immediately get a bollocking from the trainer on live television!
“I remember Elsie saying ‘yes he’s won, but it wasn’t the greatest ride!’
“In those days there were no mobile phones and I remember driving back down the motorway on my own thinking ‘I’ve just won the National’.
“I’d arranged to meet Richard Dunwoody and a few of the other lads in a Chinese restaurant in Burford near Stow-on-the-Wold. We had a good night, but because I don’t drink I actually ended up doing three or four taxi runs for the rest of them.”
Rhyme ‘N’ Reason would never race again, with a fractured hock likely suffered as a result of his Becher’s blunder ultimately leading to his retirement.
“I didn’t feel anything at the time and it just goes to show you what a tough horse he was,” said Powell.
“He had to have an operation the day after the National and never ran again. He was retired to Juliet Reed’s (owner) place and died a few years later and he’s buried there at the stud.
“I know a lot of lads say they’d want to win the Gold Cup over any other race, but for me the Grand National is the greatest race in the world.”
Looking ahead to this year’s renewal, Powell – who these days plies his trade predominantly as a Flat trainer – identified two horses he expects to run well.
He said: “Minella Rocco obviously has a lot of weight, but if the ground is good I think he’ll run a big race.
“The other one is Seeyouatmidnight. There’s just something about this horse I’ve loved since he was running over hurdles.
“I thought he ran a cracking race at Newbury the other day and that should leave him spot-on for Aintree.
“He’s a very good jumper and I think he’s the ideal National horse.”