The story of Becher’s Brook goes back to the inaugural running of the Aintree Grand National in 1839. An interesting precursor to the famous race was known the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, first run three years prior.
The 1836 Grand Liverpool Steeplechase was won by jockey Captain Martin Becher, on a horse called The Duke. In the colours of local landlord Mr Sirdefield, who hailed from nearby Great Crosby and The George Inn.
This edition of the ‘Grand National’ is now not recognised as an official running, after being revoked in the 1860’s, due to its selling race nature. Whereas now the race is a handicap, and has been since 1843.
Once this steeplechase was known as the Grand National, Captain Becher was riding Conrad three years later.
The horse called Lottery will be forever remembered in the history books as the one who won the first ever Grand National. But it is Captain Becher whose legacy continues to this day.
Becher is the only person to have a fence named after him on the racecourse, after falling twice in the race.
The former soldier took shelter in the Brook, as the oncoming horses approached him. He was able to keep a hold of Conrad having been dislodged from his back for the first time.
He is reported to have told spectators how filthy water tasted without the flavour of whisky, before the 42-year old was joined in the brook, by fellow jockey William McDonough. Both riders remounted their horses at this point, a common sight in the era.
Becher came off Conrad for the second time, and his race was over. In doing so, his fall caused too much interference to race favourite The Nun. He and Conrad parted company again at a fence now known as Valentine’s.
The Legacy Today
Nowadays, Captain Becher has a dedicated raceday to his name that takes place in early December each year. The Becher Chase and the Grand Sefton Handicap are two of the five races jumped over National fences in Liverpool, both are ran on this racecard. The Grade 3 Becher Chase is valued at £150,000 on Saturday.
The fence is jumped twice in the longest race of the season has been changed many times since the days of Captain Becher.
Modified first in 1954 but most well-known changes occurred after the 1987 and 1989 Grand Nationals.
After two equine deaths in the latter of those events, the horse racing industry saw drastic and necessary changes made, to deal with the safety of horses.
There was huge media scrutiny and an outcry from the House of Commons in 1989. This was after Brown Trix and Seeandem were euthanised on-course.
The Facts and Statistics
The fence is not the most feared looking from a jockeys perspective on the approach standing at 4ft10in. However, it is the steep landing side drop that catches horse and rider out. Not to mention the left hand turn immediately afterwards.
A further five to ten inches below their departure ground is a huge difference, and horses will not expect that change on landing.
To enhance the safety of the animals and riders, the Brook was raised five feet from its original position. Additional rubber matting is also in place to comply with BHA and National Hunt rules.
The landing side is now extremely flat ground from inside to outside of the course, encouraging all horses and riders to jump comfortably.
Also, the outer running rails are much wider to allow the fence to be bypassed if necessary. Safer widespread jumping is also a benefit.
On a positive note, the amount of fallers and equine fatalities has declined since those changes to the course, by roughly 50%. However, controversy always looms over the obstacle each time it is jumped.
The Brook will forever be synonymous with the ‘most famous horse race in the world’. The fence with one of the most intriguing of storylines.
A full race preview will be posted on MerseySportLive on Saturday morning, ahead of another exciting raceday at Aintree.
Picture courtesy of Historic images-Lancashire through Creative Commons Licence. Image found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/historic-images-uk/