Let's explore the Grand National Steeplechase featured at the end of the 1944 movie National Velvet starring Mickey Rooney as Mi Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown. Here is a clip of the race from the movie: National Velvet Grand National.
First, here are some fun facts about the film.
1. Mickey Rooney was young once. Yes, this surprised to me, too.
2. The horse actor who played "The Pie" was named King Charles, and he was a first cousin to the famous thoroughbred racer Seabiscuit. Man O'War was their grandsire.
3. King Charles was gifted to Elizabeth Taylor after filming. They had developed a strong bond while making National Velvet that MGM decided to gift him to her on her 13th birthday. She kept him for the remainder of his life.
In the movie, The Pie is entered in the Grand National Steeplechase, one of the most exciting horse races in the world. The race was founded and designed by William Lynn and first raced in 1836. The race became official in 1839 in Liverpool, England where it is still raced today.
The circular course consists of 16 fences, but 30 jumps as the first 14 fences are jumped over twice. The total race distance is 4.5 miles long.
Notable fences on the course are fences 6 & 22 known as "Becher's Brook," fences 8 & 24 known as "The Canal Turn," and fence 15 known as "The Chair."
At Becher's Brook, the horse jumps up 5', but then lands 6' 10" down. With the longer fall, jockeys need to lean far back in their saddles to keep their seats.
At the Canal Turn, the horses jump over 5', but then need to immediately turn 90 degrees to the left. This turn has been known to confuse horses as some of them have wanted to keep running straight and not turn. There used to be a ditch before this jump, but it was removed in 1928.
The Chair is the tallest fence standing at 5' 3" with a 6' ditch on the take off side. The ground is also 6" higher on the landing side. It is also the only jump in the race's entire history to have claimed a jockey's life in 1862.
In the movie, Mi and Velvet cannot find a jockey to ride "The Pie," so Velvet decides she will race him even though she knows her and The Pie would be disqualified once the officials found out she was a girl. It was not until the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 passed that made it possible for female jockeys to compete. The first female jockey rode in the 1977 race, and the first one to complete the race was in 1982. The female jockey who had placed the best is Katie Walsh in 2012 placing in 3rd.
Here is a video of the actual 1962 Grand National Steeplechase that shows how intense this race is: 1962 Grand National
Have any of you been to the Grand National Steeplechase? What was your experience?
I am Amy. I love movies, TV, and horses. I grew up with horses and taught kids how to ride during my summer breaks from school. Now I am a country girl living in a city hoping to someday move back into a rural area and own a horse again.