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John Kettley is a Grand National Weather Man

Complaining about the weather is a great British tradition and the current very cold snap has once more sent the country into panic, with wild talk of food shortages, salt supplies running out and the onset of a new Ice Age.

John Kettley
John Kettley

Thankfully, the John Smith’s Grand National has (touch wood) never been abandoned due to the weather, although the 1901 renewal took place on ground officially described as snow and downpours before the 2001 race threatened the day.

The going on April 7, 2001 was heavy, with the winner Red Marauder - one of only four finishers - recording a time of 11m 0.1s under his mud-spattered jockey Richard Guest. He was slowest Grand National winner since Zoedone in 1883 who took 11m 39s to complete the course.

Heavy conditions were also seen in 1989 when Little Polveir triumphed and in 1980 when Ben Nevis gained a famous victory for his American amateur rider Charlie Fenwick.

Firm ground, at the other end of the scale for going descriptions, used to happen from time to time; notably when Mr Frisk won in a course record time of 8m 47.8s in 1990.

These days the advanced watering equipment utilised by Aintree’s clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch means that firm ground is never likely to be seen again for a Grand National.

In the build-up to the world’s greatest chase, Aintree utilises the skills of legendary weatherman John Kettley every year to help provide accurate up-to-the minute forecasts for the area.

“I look about two weeks in advance of the John Smith’s Grand National meeting and advise the clerk of the course on how much rain there is going to be and whether they need to start planning ahead,” revealed Kettley. “It’s fantastic fun and incorporates one of my main hobbies with my work, which is great.

“My work involves all of the Jockey Club racecourses and Simon Claisse, clerk of the course at Cheltenham, calls me the least wrong of the meteorologists, which I always take as a compliment.

“I am enthusiastic follower of racing and I think that it is in the genes. My great grandfather was an apprentice jockey down in Essex before he came up north and married a girl from Yorkshire - they probably met at Pontefract racecourse!

“I remember backing Papillon at 33/1 the night before the John Smith’s Grand National in 2000 and my eldest son picked out Silver Birch in 2007 because he has always been into nature.

“The first Grand National I saw was Nicolaus Silver in 1961 and I even witnessed the carnage when Foinavon won in 1967.

“I was at college in 1973 and I had the choice of going to Aintree or watching my team Burley take on Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.

Unfortunately, I elected to go to the football instead of cheering on Red Rum, whom I backed. To make things worse, we lost 3-0!”


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