Who was Captain Martin Becher?

Captain Martin Becher was a commissioned officer in the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry in the first half of the nineteenth century, but is best known for his exploits as a National Hunt jockey. Indeed, on February 29, 1836, Becher won the inaugural running of the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase at Aintree on The Duke, following a protracted dual with the eventual runner-up, Polyanthus, from the Anchor Bridge Crossing, despite a slipping saddle.

Although subsequently excluded from the catalogue, the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase was run over more or less the same course and distance as the race that become known, unofficially, as the Grand National in 1839 and officially so in 1847. Thus, it can be argued, with some justification, that the 1836 renewal was, in fact, the first running of the celebrated steeplechase.

In any event, Becher also rode in the first ‘official’ Grand National in 1839 and, although he failed to complete the course, nonetheless wrote his name into Aintree folklore. His mount, Conrad – the 20/1 outsider of the 13 of the 17 runners quoted in the betting – fell at the sixth fence and both horse and rider rolled into the natural brook on the landing side. Becher remounted, as was permitted in those days, and set off in pursuit, but his race came to an end three fences later at the obstacle that would soon become, but was not yet, known as Valentine’s Brook. Conrad fell, again, but this time was not for catching, leaving Becher to make his own way home.

Becher later quipped that his first departure had taught him how ‘dreadful water tastes without whisky in it’. The following year, the sixth fence, previously known simply as the First Brook, became known as Becher’s Brook in his honour.

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