Leo McMorrow wins the 1949 Aintree Grand National

On Saturday 26 March 1949 – a grey day in dreary post-war Liverpool, England – Dunally National School past pupil, Leo McMorrow, wrote himself into horse racing history. The occasion was the 103rd renewal of the world-famous Grand National horse race that took place at Aintree Racecourse. Forty-three horses started the famous steeplechase but only eleven finished the race.

The race was won by 66/1 shot Russian Hero, a comfortable eight lengths ahead of his nearest challenger. Russian Hero was ridden by jockey Leo McMorrow and trained by George Owen, winning the top prize of £13,000 for owner Fearnie Williamson. Roimond finished second, with Royal Mount third and Cromwell fourth. Bora’s Cottage was a fatality on the second circuit.

One of the jockeys riding that day was young Dick Francis, later the immensely popular author of a long string of racing thrillers. Francis was on a great but temperamental horse called Roimond. In the last mile he took the lead. With only eleven horses still in the race, he was set for victory. Then, just short of the finishing line, Roimond got passed by a horse going so fast Francis knew he had no chance to catch up. It was Russian Hero, ridden by Leo McMorrow, carrying starting odds of sixty-six to one. Russian Hero beat Roimond by eight lengths. The top four finishers were as follows:

Position Name Jockey Age Handicap (st-lb) SP Distance
01 Russian Hero Leo McMorrow 9 10-8 66/1 8 lengths
02 Roimond Dick Francis 8 11-12 22/1
03 Royal Mount Patrick Doyle 10 10-12 18/1
04 Cromwell Anthony Mildmay 8 11-3 6/1

Leo grew up near Mountshannon in the parish of Calry and had a love of horses from an early age. As a kid, he used to ‘borrow’ horses from a neighbor and ride them bareback across the fields near his home. As a teenager he was apprenticed to a trainer in County Longford and that was the start of his career as a jockey. He later moved from Ireland to England to pursue his professional career as a jockey.

Before the 1949 Grand National, the well-known known jockey and later accomplished writer of detective novels, Dick Francis, actually turned down the offer to ride Russian Hero in the famous steeplechase, opting instead for the more fancied Roimund.

Dick Francis had won several races on Russian Hero and had been instrumental in saving its life when it was stricken with colic. The vet said, “Don’t let him lie down,” and Dick was one of the two people who took it in turns to walk with him all night. So it was rather ironic that Russian Hero won at 66/1. He was tipped by Alf Rubin from the Daily Worker, who really had no other option – he was the only man who did.

Dick Francis took second in 1949. Seven years later in 1956, a champion jockey in his eighth Grand National, he rode Devon Loch, owned by Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Francis was ten lengths clear, less than fifty yards from winning, when Devon Loch suddenly went down on his belly, tearing muscles in the process. It’s one of horse racing’s great mysteries, though Francis thinks it was a sudden wave of noise from the crowd that spooked his horse. “That’s racing,” the Queen Mother said stoically to Francis.

Contributor: Gerard Cunningham

Sources:

Wikipedia

The Daily Telegraph

Getty Images

Celine Feeney, Dublin (niece of Leo McMorrow)

The Sligo Champion

Jockeypedia