Ben Nevis won the National in 1980 when race was held in abysmal conditions – the course was like a bog and only four out of the thirty runners ending up finishing. Ben Nevis didn’t look like he had much hope in the National – he had been brought down the previous year and hadn’t won a single race after a dozen attempts in Britain, so he entered the National as a 40-1 shot.
Bred in England by Camiri out of Ben Trumiss, Ben Nevis was an unbroken five year old by the time he was bought by Jane Porter to run in point-to-points. He fell in his first two races and won his third, catching the eye of American Redmond C. Stewart Jnr., who had no chasing experience whatsoever, but agreed to buy him at a dinner party.
When the six year old Ben Nevis finally got to America in 1974, the buyers son in law was nothing if unimpressed, but Mr Stewart having twice owned a winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup knew he was onto a good thing. He was proved right when Ben Nevis went on to win the Maryland Cup in both 1977 and 1978, and in total won twelve successive races before he was sent back to England to enter the 1979 Grand National.
On returning to England, to trainer Captain Tim Forester, Ben Nevis was like a mirror image of his American self, competing in twelve races without a single win. These defeats were accredited to the fact that, having won seven of his twelve races in America over timber, he was now completely unused to the heavy or soft ground in England. The only reason he was fourth in the betting at 14-1 was because the good going was in his favour. However bad luck ruled his race, with two riderless horses creating a pile-up at The Chair – his jockey Mr Fenwick got back in the saddle but abandoned hope at the next fence.
The 1980 National didn’t look at all promising – he was now twelve years old, had been lowered only four pounds and still hadn’t won a single race in England. He also had a cough and it was to be extremely heavy going. Forster later stated that he didn’t think they had a hope and would have withdrawn had it not been for his supporters who had travelled from America for the race.
His advice to Mr Fenwick: ‘Keep remounting’. Somehow though, Ben Nevis seemed all of a sudden to have adapted to heavy conditions, leading the field from the second Becher’s on. He won by a comfortable twenty lengths to Rough and Tumble and a further ten lengths to The Pilgarlic, with only one other horse completing the course out of the thirty starters.
Following his National victory he returned to the United States where he retired to Mr Stewart’s Maryland estate. Following Mr Stewarts death he was cared for by Mr Fenwick, the second American jockey to win the Grand National.