The Grand National is one of the most famous steeplechases in the world, and it was two Irish fox-hunting men, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O'Callaghan who came up with the name 'steeplechase' in 1752.
They did this by running from steeple to steeple in Co. Cork, so it is fitting that Ireland have the greatest 'foreign' impact on the Grand National, a race that is run over approximately the same distance as the original steeplechase from St John's Church in Buttevant to St Mary's Church at Doneraile. So great is the Irish influence, that the Grand National has become a distinctly Anglo-Irish festivity.The Irish have been competing in the race since it was first run in 1839, with owner Tony Ferguson bringing over three horses to compete that year – Daxon, Rust and Barkson. Ferguson himself rode Daxon, but fell as did Barkson, but Rust proved such a worthy contender that the course was invaded by opposing punters who brought him to a halt. Needless to say, it didn't put the Irish off – the following year half of the contenders were Irish with one of them giving name to the second brook - Valentine, so good was his handling of it.In 1847 the Irish won the Grand National for the first time, with Matthew, a joint 10-1 favourite. Three years later they won again with Abd-El-Kader who went on to become the first horse to win successive Nationals. Since then, even though many are English trained and owned, the majority of National winners have been bred in Ireland – including Red Rum, the Nationals only triple champion; Golden Miller, who is the only horse to have won both the National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same year; Cloister, twice runner up before winning by a record 40 lengths even though he weighed in at a huge 12st 7lb; Manifesto, who ran in a record eight Grand Nationals, winning two, coming third twice, and fourth once.As well as excellent horses, Ireland has also produced brilliant trainers and jockeys with Henry Eyre Linde, Willie Garrett and Michael Vincent O' Brien to name but a few of the former group. Things stepped up a notch for Irish born jockeys when four brothers – the Beasleys, rode in the National in the same year – 1879. None of them won that year, another Irishman did, but it didn't stop them coming back again and again with Tommy winning in 1880, 1881 and 1889 and Harry winning as rider and trainer in 1891.Since 1995 no fewer than ten of thirteen National winners have been ridden by Irishmen, and they are recognised as a dominant force in the National Hunt. 2006 saw a record number of Irish horses entered for the National – thirty eight. Twentyone made it to the 40 runner line-up, and they took first, second and fourth places , while the third and fifth finishers, though England-based, were both owned and trained by Irishmen, JP McManus and Jonjo O'Neill.