Riders saddle up for historic race

IT is widely regarded as one of the greatest horse races in the world – but not too many people may know that the Grand National could have its origins right here in Suffolk.

The very first steeplechase in England is believed to have happened at Nacton in 1803.

At the time of the threatened Napoleonic invasion the 7th Hussars were stationed at the Ipswich Horse Barracks – still marked today by Barrack Lane, found between St Matthew Street and Anglesea Road.

One officer, thought to be called Hansum, was boasting of his new horse’s qualities and challenged others to test their trusty steeds against each other.

Before long seven or eight had committed themselves to a four-and-a-half-mile gallop from Ipswich to St Martin’s tower – or steeple – in Nacton.

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To make themselves more visible to each other they agreed to wear white night caps and night shirts over their uniform. The challenger is believed to have ridden a grey called Champion but it failed to live up to its name when it was narrowly beaten into fourth place. The event has continued to be remembered – a series of plates were drawn up and published in the Sporting Review of January 1839.

And a group of youngsters from Orwell Park School in Nacton recently decided to re-enact the race just in time for this year’s Grand National, which is happening on Saturday.

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The eight girls, aged between 11 and 13, are part of the school’s champion equestrian team and entered into the spirit of the competition – nightgowns included.

Ted Blackbrow, from Orwell Park School, said: “All the girls really enjoyed it – they had a lot of fun.

“Because it was so successful I think we will definitely do it again. Maybe not every year but we are certainly talking about staging another race for charity.”

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