In May 1960 a horse was sold in Dublin, it was bought by Anne, Duchess of Westminster who had named him after a mountain on her Sutherland Estate. The horse remained on Anne’s farm, in Ireland, just outside Dublin, his new stable-mate was Arkle. Anne had a habit of calling her horses after mountains and like Arkle and Ben Stack, she called this new horse Foinavon. In 1965 the horse was up for sale again this time it was bought by John Kempton who ran Chatham stables a small training yard in Compton Berkshire. Foinavon’s new stable-mate this time was a white goat called Susie. He never shone in 1966 managing sixth place in a field of seven but the following year was placed in seven out of eight starts.
In 1967 his trainer, John Kempton hoped to ride Foinavon in the 1967 Grand National himself but, at over six foot he was never going to make the weight. Cyril Watkins, the horse’s owner, wasn’t keen to pay the additional fee expected for riding in the Grand National and was turned down by three jockeys. Days before the race John Buckingham, who had never before ridden in the Grand National, took up the challenge. Foinavon would start the 1967 Grand National at odds of 100/1
Of the 44 starters, 28 were still in the race as they approached Becher’s Brook on the second circuit with Foinavon going well in 22nd place, just behind the favourite Honey End. As they approached 23rd fence, Popham Down, one of two riderless horses out in front of the race, veered to the right and ran across the fence, causing a pile up. Rondetto, one of the leaders managed to clear the fence but then unseated his rider after landing, as horses refused the fence they crashed into one another and ran up and down the fence. Foinavon slowed to a canter and managed to find a gap, cleared the fence and carried on.
At the next obstacle the Canal Turn, Buckingham looked back in disbelief at the 30-length lead he had with only six fences remaining. Seventeen horses, including remounts, did give chase and the 15/2 favourite, Honey End closed the gap to within 20 lengths but at the final fence Foinavon would not be caught, Foinavon romped home to win the 1967 Grand National.
When I returned from Cyprus, I was posted to Kinloss GRSS (ground radio servicing section), we were a small and pretty nomadic bunch, we could be at Saxa Vord on the north tip of Unst in the Shetland isles one week the next in Northern Ireland or even Stornoway. I joined the Mountain Rescue when I was at Kinloss, although I could not go out every weekend with them I did have some good experiences.
Leaving the camp on Friday evening we travelled up to North-West Sutherland, making camp at Alt Ceann Locha. Once the tents were pitched it was into the landrover, to beadle off to the nearest pub, I believe that would have been Rhiconich. Plans had been hatched back at Kinloss as to who wanted to do what, arranging pick-ups amongst themselves. Since I had little experience of hill walking would be part of a team doing a ridge walk, nothing too desperate. Tomorrow I would be walking along the crest of the remains of a long-extinct volcano called Ganu Mor Foinavon at 908 meters above sea level and since we would be starting at sea level, we would have to climb ever meter.
Now it just so happened that the 1967 Grand National would be run the following day, Saturday. A certain group of lads from Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team, would be walking the Foinavon ridge, must be an omen in there some place. I believe it was spoons, who phoned his friend at camp and asked him to put the bets on for us before the race. The rest you can read above, I can assure you there was a lot of new climbing equipment in evidence the following weekend. Me I was back in Northern Ireland, spending some of my ill-gotten gains in Mooney’s Bar in Belfast.