Ron Barry – my National memories

Ron Barry in his heyday

Ron Barry in his heyday

One of my heroes celebrated his 70th birthday last month. The jockey in question is Ron Barry, and the reason I followed him in my teenage years is a horse called Titus Oates, winner of the 1969 Massey Ferguson Gold Cup at Cheltenham. At the time I was fascinated by the exploits of Robert Falcon Scott, and I have never forgotten the names of the five men on that ill-fated final journey to the South Pole.

Barry had considerable success at Cheltenham over the years, and for many people his ride on The Dikler in the 1973 Gold Cup was the highlight of his career. Certainly that season was one he will never forget, as he was champion jockey with a total of 125 winners, a record that was expected to stand for a long time. In fact it was beaten five years later by Jonjo O’Neill’s total of 149.

Barry never had the same success in the Grand National, He rode The Dikler, but could only manage fifth in 1975 and sixth the year after. But by then, Barry had pretty much given up hope of winning the National.

He told the Racing Post, “You only get one bite at the cherry of winning a National and mine was on my first ride in it.” That was in 1971 when he rode a horse called Sandy Sprite. The pair hunted round to begin with, and was in second place throughout the second circuit. Barry went to the front at the final fence, but broke down on the run in before finishing fifth, just three to four lengths behind the winner Specify.

There’s some delightful British Movietone coverage of the race on You Tube (type You Tube 1971 Grand National) which shows Aintree with open stands, bookies in bowlers, a perfect start and a train in the station at the top end of the course. And the race itself, of course.

Barry said he wished he had pulled Sandy Sprite up, adding that “she would have won by ten or 15 lengths, I’m sure of that. I said that night I’d never win a National. That was my chance gone.”

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