One of the most interesting of all Grand National winners has to be Sheila’s Cottage – the winner of the 1948 race. For a start, Sheila’s Cottage was a mare (as her name suggests) and that’s a rare thing. In fact, she was the first mare to win for became the first mare to win since Shannon Lass in 1902 - and only the 12th in the history of the race.
What makes her even more interesting is the story of her legendary National trainer, Neville Crump. When Sheila’s Cottage won the great race, Neville Crump had been training racehorses at his yard in Middleham in North Yorkshire for a decade.
Sheila’s Cottage was no easy training task. She was a temperamental horse, but one for whom the blunt Neville had a great affection. She was also completely unfancied for the 48 National, partly because she was female and won at odds of 66-1. Meanwhile, the only other mare in the race that year, Zahia, was a 100-1 shot.
Despite the market overlooking the two ladies, it was the mares who would dominate the race. Zahia looked all over the winner approaching the second from home, but her jockey guided her horse the wrong way causing Zahia to run out before the last fence.
This left Sheila’s Cottage clear of the rest and she romped home in fine style, from
First of the Dandies in second, Cromwell third and Happy Home 4th of the 43 runners. Then, just two days later, the bad-tempered winning mare rewarded her winning jockey Arthur Thompson by biting off his thumb!
The win helped launch Crump’s training career from this point, He was able to establish Middleham as a National Hunt racing base to truly rival Lambourn as his horses in training grew quickly in number from just six horses to almost 30.
Sheila's Cottage's Grand National win was followed the follow year by the first of Crump’s remarkable five Scottish Grand National wins with Wot No Sun, who also made the frame on two separate occasions in the Aintree Grand National. Crump’s Scottish National record has been equalled by only one other trainer, Ken Oliver. Crump’s Scottish National winners were: Wot No Sun (1949), Merryman II (1959), Arcturus (1968), Salkeld (1980), Canton (1983).
And Crump's second Liverpool National win came just four years after Sheila’s Cottage when he won the race with Teal, whilst Wot No Sun was third. And finally, in 1960, he again trained the winner with the famous Merryman II whose 15-length victory came in the last Grand National before the formidable fences were modified.
Neville Crump passed away in 1997, aged 86.