To most BRITS aged 60-plus, mention of “66” conjures up memories of a glorious July Wembley afternoon, and Geoff Hurst – immortalised by THAT Kenneth Wolstenholme QUOTE – finally putting England on the WORLD CUP football map.
But back in 1929, to a fearless army of jump jockeys that included V.Piggott, F.Fish, brothers F & W Gurney, Captains A.F.W.Gossage and R.E.Sassoon, and Mr R. Gubbins, 66 represented something rather different, because this was the extraordinary record number of horses ever to line up (IN TWO ROWS!) for a Grand National, worth £13,000 to connections of the victorious Gregalach.
TIM HAMEY, who would write his name into Aintree folklore aboard 1932 winner FORBRA, was another of those brave - some might say “bonkers” – 66 horsemen to set out on the gruelling four and a half miles stamina test. Only the previous March, just TWO finished out of 42 starters, and one of those, runner-up Billy Barton, was remounted after falling at the final fence when upsides 100-1 winner Tipperary Tim.
Hamey, on Grakle, the subsequent 1931 hero, came home sixth of only 10 to complete the course in 1929. His vivid recollections of that record-sized field were that the START was “like the CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”, a reference to the 1854 BATTLE OF BALACLAVA during the CRIMEAN WAR.
Born James Henry Hamey in Grantham on December 17, 1905, he adopted a different Christian name to avoid confusion with other established jockeys in the stables run by Captain Kirk (honestly!) on Cleeve Hill, overlooking Cheltenham racecourse. He was only 16 when he had his first mount over jumps, on Castlerobin at Birmingham on November 27th, 1922, having partnered just two Flat winners, at Leicester and Birmingham.
Tim’s rapid weight rise then forced the inevitable switch to jumping, but his career flourished. And 1926 brought the big breakthrough, with his first major triumph, on KOKO, who proved he was no clown with an emphatic success in only the third running of the CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP, worth just £880!
Later that March, Tim made his Grand National debut on the same horse but was brought down at Becher’s Brook. Koko, one of eight Cheltenham Festival winners for Hamey, was the first of his 12 consecutive National rides, and his place in the Aintree hall-of-fame arrived on March 18th, 1932, at the seventh attempt, on 50-1 chance Forbra, a flatracing reject owned by Ludlow mayor and bookmaker William Parsonage and prepared at Kinnersley, Worcestershire by Tom Rimell, father of Fred. (For the record, Hamey’s son Rex had seven mounts in the National, registering a personal best seventh in 1955.)
And YES, this was the same Fred Rimell who would saddle four National winners between 1956 and 1976, ESB, Nicolaus Silver, Gay Trip and Rag Trade, a feat only matched by Ginger McCain, with Red Rum’s historic treble and Amberleigh House.
But Fred was only 18 in 1932, too inexperienced to tackle the massive Merseyside obstacles, so giving Tim the opportunity to become one of the first jockeys to taste success in steeplechasing’s “BIG TWO”.
Forbra’s place in the 1932 line-up actually came about fortuitously. He had cost Mr Parsonage 1500 guineas not long before his colours of French grey, dark blue sleeves, red cap were donned at Newbury in December, 1931 when beaten five lengths by the legendary Golden Miller, only to be awarded first prize when it emerged the “Miller” had carried the wrong weight. And because of the value of that Newbury event, Forbra was now qualified for the National! What a double dose of “Lady Luck”! Less than three months later, Golden Miller landed the first of his never-to-be-repeated famous five Blue Riband triumphs in Gloucestershire.
The original idea was to run in the less taxing Stanley Chase the day before the National. But when the horse became “N.Q.” for the “Stanley” with a victory at Taunton, the decision was taken to go for the “BIG ONE”.
And so, Forbra, a virtual novice carrying 10-7, lined up against 35 rivals including the three previous winners, Gregalach, Shaun Goilin and Grakle. In a race full of grief, Tim and Forbra galloped to a three lengths victory over the amateur-ridden Egremont.
The runner-up’s jockey, Edward Paget, a London stockbroker, was thus denied a whopping £4,000 payout by his bookmaker for a £1 “Spring Double” wager after correctly predicting 40-1 shot Jerome Fandor would win the Lincoln!
Forbra, so named because he was by FORESIGHT out of THYMBRA, competed in two more Nationals, finishing last of 6 in 1933, with Hamey up again; then as a nine-year-old and partnered by Gerry Hardy, he came home fourth of 8 behind the “Miller”, who was landing that historic Gold Cup-National double.
Besides Hamey and Hardy, Forbra was partnered in public by a trio of champions, Gerry Wilson, Billy Stott and Fred Rimell of course. The latter rode the horse just three times, sadly culminating in a fatal fall for Forbra at Newbury on January 26th, 1935. A tragic end to a wonderful career.
Since 1955, the horse has been honoured each February at LUDLOW, with the Forbra Gold Challenge Cup, a beautiful trophy donated by the Parsonage family more than half a century ago. The popular and valuable ‘chasing prize went to the Paul Nicholls stable for the first time this year, with Tommy Silver.
Tim Hamey, for whom Le Bizco was his 333rd and final riding success over jumps, at Huntingdon in 1940, went on to train around 50 winners, mostly from his base alongside Prestbury Park. He spent his final years in accommodation provided by Lord Oaksey’s I.J.F. in Bishops Cleeve, near Cheltenham, and following his death, aged 84, Tim was described by Oaksey at his memorial service as “A DIAMOND OF A MAN”.