In April this year, a couple of days before the 107th Grand National horse race, Royal Mail brought out a series of stamps celebrating eight of Britain’s most famous racehorses.
Each stamp was illustrated by Michael Heslop, an artist best known for his paintings of golfers and horses. In an interview about the stamps, Heslop explained that the reason he enjoys painting horses is because the pictures he creates have everything he wants in a subject: form, movement, the textures and colours of horseflesh and the jockeys’ silks. For him, the image of a horse and jockey involved in a race is something well worth painting, and he found the Royal Mail stamps particularly inspiring because he remembers watching the featured horses during their careers.
I have the two first class stamps that came out in this series. These feature flat-racing supremo, Frankel, and champion steeplechaser, Red Rum.
Frankel won his first race at Newmarket in 2010 when he was two years old, and astonishingly went on to win all 14 races of his career.
At one point it looked as if Frankel’s racing days might be cut short when he suffered a leg injury in April 2011. Rumours of his retirement were silenced, however, when he went on to win the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury the following month. He competed in three more races, before retiring in October 2012 after winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot.
By the end of his career Frankel was the highest rated racehorse in the world, and the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee have declared him the best horse they’ve assessed since the rankings began in 1977.
Red Rum is surely the best known racehorse in the UK, having achieved something no other horse has managed so far. In 1973 he won the Grand National, a notoriously difficult horse race involving 30 jumps over two laps of the course at Aintree. He went on to win again in 1974, and then a record third time in 1977. He came second in both 1975 and 1976.
Who knows what might have happened if things had turned out differently in 1978. The day before that year’s Grand National, which would have been the sixth one he had competed in, Red Rum suffered a fracture and retired from horse racing. When he died in 1995, aged 30, newspapers featured the news on their front pages. He is buried next to the winning post at Aintree.