Few horses can claim to have jumped the Aintree Grand National fences as much as stalwart The Pilgarlic. In the late seventies he gave many a horse a run for his money.
Trained by the late great Fred Rimmell, he started in the Topham Chase in 1976. He finished second and from there on in, was headed to the Grand National.
The 1977 Grand National rolled around and with jockey Richard Evans on board, The Pilgarlic had a good chance. Unfortunately, he was also running at the same time as the legendary Red Rum and after that, he didn’t have a shot at being remembered.
The fact that Red Rum won the 1977 race, his third Grand National win in five years, meant the horses that placed were instantly forgotten. That includes The Pilgarlic who went off on odds of 40/1. However, he finished 4th behind Churchtown Boy (2nd) and Eyecatcher (3rd). I’m betting you don’t remember them either!
The Pilgarlic After Red Rum
1977 was Red Rum’s last run in the National so in 1978 it looked like The Pilgarlic could move up to top spot. However, despite having Evans on board again, and running another solid race, he could only manage fifth place. Bookies were a bit wiser and this time he went off on odds of 33/1.
By 1979 duo were back on the Grand National track for the third time. Going off on odds of 16/1, the then 11-year-old, performed really well. He finished 4th behind the winner Rubstic.
Was there another National on the horizon? Yes, in 1980 he returned to Aintree for the fourth consecutive year. Ron Hyett was the jockey on board and at 12-years-old he did run better. Improving on his previous runs, he banked third spot. That was his best finish in the race.
What makes this particular run even more impressive is the fact that the 1980 Grand National, on March 29th, had only four finishers.
It was won by Ben Nevis, ridden by the American amateur rider Charlie Fenwick. In second place was Rough and Tumble ridden by John Francome, third was The Pilgarlic and fourth was Stuart Royal.
Richard Evans And His Grand National Bet
Richard Evans was a solid dependable jockey who had previously raced in a few Grand Nationals without success. In fact, in the 1973 Grand National, he fell at the Chair and was kicked on the ground, suffering a broken wrist.
So by the time the 1978 race rolled around, he had plenty of experience over the National fences. His brother James was also riding in the race on a horse called Lean Forward. Knowing that both of them were on decent horses, Richard struck an unusual wager.
He was offered odds of 25/1 for James and himself to both get around and finish the race. Richard placed a £25 bet.
Richard and The Pilgarlic finished in 5th place and James also completed the course, coming home thirteenth of fifteen finishers. His canny bet won him £625 which, in today’s money, is the equivalent of nearly £3130. Not bad for a day’s racing!
The term ‘Pilgarlic’, means “A man looked upon with humorous contempt or mock pity”. One thing is for sure, nobody ever looked on The Pilgarlic with mock pity. Running in four consecutive Grand Nationals is a feat matched by few horses.
As he never actually won the race, ‘The Pilgarlic’ is now used as a nickname in reference to competition entrants that always place but never win. Kind of an ‘Always the bridesmaid never the bride’ situation.