John Burke made history when he rode the winner of the Grand National in 1976. He was the man onboard Rag Trade, who won the race that year, but the history surrounded his trainer, Fred Rimell. He landed his fourth Grand National here, the first trainer to bag four winners, and a record that would last all the way until 2004.
Burke was stable jockey to Rimell at the time, they had this horse for just one year but managed to take him to a Grand National win, amongst others. Born in February 1953, Burke turned to professional riding aged 21 and retired quite early compared to some, at 32 years old.
During that time, Burke rode a total of 196 winners and played his part in one of the biggest horse racing films ever made, as well as winning the Grand National at Aintree.
Sadly, at the age of just 41, in 1995, Burke passed away after suffering from a heart attack at home.
John Burke Grand National Wins
- 1976 - Rag Trade trained by Thomas Frederic Rimell
|1985||Lucky Vane||Fence 10 - Pulled Up||-||G B ‘Toby’ Balding|
|1984||Lucky Vane||4||£3,338||G B ‘Toby’ Balding|
|1983||Hot Tomato||Fence 30 -||-||W Clay (2)|
|1981||Senator Maclacury||5||-||J Walsh (2)|
|1980||Royal Frolic||Fence 27 - Refused||-||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
|1979||Royal Frolic||6||-||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
|1978||Brown Admiral||10||-||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
|1977||Andy Pandy||Fence 22 - Fell||-||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
|1976||Rag Trade||1||£37,420||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
|1975||Rough House||Fence 4 - Fell||-||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
|1974||Rough House||Fence 8 - Fell||-||Thomas Frederic Rimell|
Winning The 1976 Grand National On Rag Trade
Going into the 1976 Grand National, there should have been plenty of talk about Rag Trade, but there wasn’t too much, given the fact that Red Rum was in the race.
He was aiming to become the first horse to win three Grand Nationals, had two in the bag and had finished second the previous year when he seemed destined for a big win. However, while Red Rum was trying to make history, so was Rag Trade, though for his trainer, not the horse.
Fred Rimell had won the Grand National three times, no one had done any better than that as a trainer in the race, he was aiming to become the first to win four. Rag Trade was the horse that finally made that dream come true, Rimell took the record and held it all the way until 2004 when Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain would join him on four wins.
In terms of the race itself, this was the third time that Burke had been involved and the first time he’d completed the course. Falling at fences four and eight in the previous two years was the extent of his experience, so the ride he gave Rag Trade was super impressive considering that.
He knew he was on a horse that stayed, and that was key to his game plan. Rag Trade kicked clear, and laid down a challenge to Red Rum, catch me if you can. There was almost a stone in weight difference between the two runners, and that made it too difficult for Red Rum to get on terms up the run in.
After winning the Midlands National and Welsh Grand National, there was no danger of Rag Trade stopping in the closing stages, Burke pushed him out up the run in, and while Red Rum tried, there was never any danger of him getting up.
This would be the one, and only time that Burke won the Grand National, and other than this year, it wasn’t a race that gave him much success. On six of the 11 mounts he had, Burke was unable to complete the course, while he placed fourth on one occasion, the only other time, away from the win, where he managed to get in the frame.
Starring In A Horse Racing Film
Burke retired from racing in 1985, but a couple of years earlier than that, in 1983, he had a taste of a different world. He starred in a film, a popular horse racing film for many years, which was called Champions.
The film told the story of Bob Champion coming back to ride after being diagnosed with cancer, and not only that, but he went right to the top of the game by winning the Grand National on Aldaniti. During the scenes that involved Champion riding on a horse, it was actually John Burke that stood in and played him in the film, using his race riding experience to complete that.
It was certainly something different and something that not too many jockeys get the chance to do, given there aren’t too many racing films. Sadly in 1995, John Burke passed away after suffering a heart attack at his home in 1995.