The start of the 1974 Grand National was delayed by four minutes, but once they were off and running it was Charles Dickens who led almost from the start with Rough Silk, Sunny Lad, Rouge Autumn and Straight Vulgan and L'Escargot in the leading bunch. The plan with Red Rum was identical to the previous years. For the first two miles, they would again 'hunt round'.
The three BBC TV commentators had not read the race far enough back towards the rear to mention Red Rum before the field swept onto the racecourse in a dazzle of colour at the end of the first huge circuit. At the one before the dreaded Chair Peter O'Sullevan saw the zigzagging threats of the loose horses.
'The two leaders - Pearl of Montreal and Charles Dickens - then Sunny Lad and L'Escargot and then just in behind them Spanish Steps, and then comes Rouge Autumn, San-Feliu, Straight Vulgan -' Fletcher here began his run and O'Sullevan spotted him instantly 'And right up there Red Rum going well, going strongly in the centre of the field.
Coming up to The Chair now and as they do so it's Charles Dickens with a loose horse perilously near to him. Charles Dickens jumps it but he's very nearly brought down ... but he survives all right. L'Escargot jumped it on the inside, Pearl of Montreal just in the lead and its Pearl of Montreal as they come to the water from Charles Dickens and L'Escargot and Sunny Lad and then Vulgan Town. Then comes Spanish Steps, behind Spanish Steps is Rough Silk, then San-Feliu, and then Red Rum.
The field raced away from the stands, onto the second circuit and John Hanmer took up the commentary: Red Rum started to make his move and by the time they had got to Becher's (fence 22) for the second time, Red Rum found himself in front and led over Becher's from Charles Dickens, L'Escargot, Scout and Vulgan Town.
At the Canal Turn Red Rum was mocking his pursuers. He was moving as if only at half-speed, bounding over the ground as if he were laughing with delight while those behind - Charles Dickens, Scout, L'Escargot, Spanish Steps, Vulgan Town, Rough Silk and Stephen's Society toiled behind him like normal racehorses under pressure in a race of their own with three and a half miles gone .... And Red Rum was sauntering in the sunlight.
With only four more of Aintree's towering but tattered fences left Red Rum was four lengths clear and still on the bridle. Fletcher explained 'I had to go to the front going to Becher's. I went to the front so early, 'cos if I'd restrained him any longer I'd have got myself into trouble or something.
Running towards home Red Rum made his only mistake. Over-jumping, he pitched forward and for an instant looked like blundering. Fletcher sat right back, well and safely like the best of Aintree jockeys and before the forward pitch of Red Rum's neck and head were done, his other foreleg flashed forward to take the weight and keep him moving with only the briefest hiccup in his stride. It was done quick as a conjuror, and he was galloping on.
Then, crossing the Melling Road, L'Escargot, dual winner of ' chasing's Gold Cup classic, moves forward closer, his blinkered head extending like a snake towards Red Rum, topped by the darkly sinister goggles of jockey Carberry. Will it be like last year now, the long-time leader getting hauled down in the dying seconds as a stag is pulled down by a wolf?
Peter O'Sullevan came in quick and strong as the gap started closing. 'It's Red Rum with L'Escargot chasing him now, the two top weights, Red Rum from L'Escargot. Red Rum for England, trying to complete that great double that hasn't been done since Reynoldstown, being pressed by L'Escargot now for Ireland. Then comes Spanish Steps, improving on Charles Dickens. Then Scout, and behind them Vulgan Town and then Rough Silk. They're coming now to the second last fence in the 'National. And it's Brian Fletcher on Red Rum being pressed by Tommy Carberry on L'Escargot. The two top-weighted ones at the second last in the 'National. ... It's Red Rum with a clear advantage there from L'Escargot who jumped it second. Then comes Charles Dickens third and Spanish Steps.... '
The gap had closed. Then Red Rum spurted like a sprinter. He sped towards the last smashed fence as bright as a bay button. He headed into a mountainous wall of acclamation.
Peter O'Sullevan's voice rose above the tumult: 'This is the last fence now. It looks as though Red Rum has only got to jump it!
Red Rum from L'Escargot, Tommy Carberry is trying to close the gap, but he's not going to, they come to the elbow. A furlong to run, he's got a big weight remember - twenty three pounds more than last year, but he's going to hold on. It's Red Rum from L'Escargot in second, Charles Dickens third and Spanish - Steps fourth, and racing up towards the line and Red Rum getting the ovation of his career - Brian Fletcher acknowledging the cheers of the crowds as he comes to the line!
RED RUM wins the National.
RED RUM (The Extraordinary Story of A Horse of Courage) By Ivor Herbert