Michael Oliver didn’t have the biggest list of Grand National runners, but he is well known for training one of the best, most loved Grand National runners of all time, West Tip. That horse was actually accountable for more than half of Oliver’s attempts to win the race, he had nine attempts at winning the race, and six of those came from West Tip.
He had his first winner in 1973 and saddled his last in 1990, with plenty of success in between. Grand National success came in 1986, with West Tip winning his second attempt at the race, and his Grand National story unfolded around that horse, he ran a total of six times in the race and was in the frame on four of those occasions.
Away from Aintree, Oliver had a couple of Cheltenham Festival winners, including West Tip winning the National Hunt Handicap Chase. At the same time, other horses brought success in races, such as the Haldon Gold Cup and Cotswold Chase. However, it was Aintree and with the Grand National where he was known best at the top table, thanks to a remarkable training performance with West Tip.
Sadly, Michael Oliver passed away aged 70 in 2020.
Michael Oliver Grand National Wins
- 1986 - West Tip ridden by Richard Dunwoody
|1990||West Tip||10||-||Peter Hobbs|
|1989||West Tip||2||£25,080||Richard Dunwoody|
|1988||West Tip||4||£4,919||Richard Dunwoody|
|1987||West Tip||4||£8,210||Richard Dunwoody|
|1986||West Tip||1||£42,591||Richard Dunwoody|
|1985||Bashful Lad||Fence 1 - Fell||-||Graham McCourt|
|1985||West Tip||Fence 22 - Fell||-||Richard Dunwoody|
|1978||Master H||Fence 8 - Saddle Slipped||-||Reg Crank|
The West Tip Story Of Six Races
Running in six Grand Nationals is probably enough to take a horse to legendary status on its own. Winning one on top is the icing on the cake and cements a huge legacy. But that wasn’t all we got from West Tip. He also finished second in a National and fourth in two others, so his record stands at one win and three placed efforts from six runs, completing five of those six. The one he didn’t complete is seen by many as his golden moment missed because he looked like the most likely winner when coming down at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.
All of that came together to create legendary status for West Tip, and Michael Oliver was the man behind his career path. He was the one that got him to six Grand Nationals in good enough health to make a real go of it and not just be an also-ran. Getting him there six times deserves credit, but West Tip had a genuine chance of winning every time he went to the race.
The public clearly loved him, this is precisely the type of horse that really warms the heart of people. He was sent off as joint-favourite in his first National, second favourite in his second, the one he won, then favourite in his third, and close to the head of the betting in his fourth and fifth races. As a 13-year-old, he was 20/1 to win his final attempt, odds that are bigger, but there won’t be many 13 years olds sent off as short as 20/1 for the Grand National, given their age.
A really good jumper, a horse with plenty of ability, and most of all, a great desire to win and strong staying power, if you want to build a horse for the Grand National, then West Tip is pretty much the model you would follow. A real stalwart of racing, who made his name pretty much thanks to one race, and the fact he went there six times in his career.
Six runs, one victory, one second, two fourth’s, a 10th finish and a very unlucky fall when in with a great chance of winning. A remarkable CV for a Grand National horse, and one that was masterminded by Michael Oliver and his team.
Winning The 1986 Grand National With West Tip
The Michael Oliver Grand National story is pretty much the West Tip Grand National story, so of course, the biggest moment for both was winning the 1986 Grand National. Expectations were high, many believed that he would have won the race in 1985 had he not fallen at Becher’s Brook, so this was about redemption, and he delivered that in great style.
Oliver had the horse spot on for the day and received a big boost ahead of the race when he managed to secure the services of Richard Dunwoody to take the ride. Dunwoody was scheduled to ride another horse due to a retained rider agreement, but after riding West Tip in 1985, they wanted to get back on, and an agreement was made.
The pair looked excellent on the Aintree grass, West Tip was gliding through the National and looking like the second favourite he was at the time of the off. Over the Melling Road and onto the second last, and we had a small group of horses together, where the winner was clearly going to come from. Of those, nothing was travelling better than West Tip, and Dunwoody was bringing him through the field with ease.
Over the second last and onto the last, where Young Driver, 66/1 outsider, held the lead, but West Tip was going much the better in behind, seemingly only a matter of time before he went by to win the race. A good jump at the last, and West Tip was past. Up the run-in, and it is fair to say that West Tip didn’t move away and win in great style like we expected, but there was no danger of him losing the race, he had more than enough to fend off a return from Young Driver.
In the end, West Tip took the race by two lengths, it looked like it may have been double figures as horses jumped the last, but credit to Young Driver for trying to stay with him.
Redemption had been served in the best possible way, the same people who were left disappointed in 1985 were together and celebrating in good style in 1986 as West Tip had landed the National.
The Incident That Almost Ended West Tip’s Career at the Start
The West Tip Grand National story is remarkable enough when you know the facts around Aintree and his runs there. The fact that Michael Oliver got the horse to Aintree on six occasions in great form so that he could run well is a fantastic feat itself, but there is even more to make this special.
Before his racecourse debut, West Tip was out on the gallops with others from the Michel Oliver team when an accident on the road almost ended his racing career before it had started. The string were walking down the road when a big truck drove past them, it went by all horses, but right at the end of the line was West Tip.
He was spooked by the noise and spun around, which put him in line with the truck. There was a hook on the side of the truck which hit into West Tip, causing a huge cut to his hindquarters, which required a lot of work.
A huge hole was left in the horse, which required 70 internal stitches and multiple external stitches to patch him up. It was confirmed whether he would be able to ever run, but thanks to the surgeon Peter Thorne, and plenty of care and attention from Michael Oliver, they nursed their future star back so that he could run.
Anyone who saw West Tip in the flesh, and maybe those who saw him on TV, will have seen the distinctive scar left on his hindquarters from the accident, which was there for the rest of his life.
At the time of happening, Oliver didn’t know how good West Tip would be, he wasn’t fighting to save a star, just fighting to save a horse. Luckily for the story of West Tip, he did save him, and allowed him to get to the racecourse, and showed us all what he could do.
This all happened in 1982, and right at the end of the year was when West Tip made his racecourse debut. He won at Warwick, at odds of 50/1, the first step on his path to greatness and one that was only able to start due to the work of Peter Thorne and Michael Oliver, getting him back up to speed.
As they say, the rest is history, their work saved a Grand National legend of the future and a horse we all grew to love.
Famous Horses Trained by Michael Oliver
Here are some of the bigger names trained by Michael Oliver during his career.