We all know how the Aintree Grand National loves to throw up fairytale stories, and every year, we cheer on the underdogs or those with tales that we resonate with.

From Red Rum’s third victory carrying top weight to the little horse that could, Tiger Roll, winning back-to-back victories, and even Rachael Blackmore’s historic win on Minella Times, we love what makes this race so unique.

However, one of the most remarkable stories comes from further afield and goes back to 1938 when Battleship, an American-bred 11-year-old, took Aintree by storm, setting multiple records in the process.

Given that most American horses tend to take their chances at the likes of the Kentucky Derby, the American Grand National, or end up the focus of Breeders Cup betting, how did this little horse make his way to England and win the National by the narrowest of margins?

The Early Years

Foaled in Lexington, Kentucky, by Walter J. Salmon in 1927, Battleship was initially trained for flat racing and was quite successful, winning 10 of his 22 starts.

Then he got injured enough to put him out of contention for a year, so Salmon sold him to Marion duPont Scott, a racing enthusiast, who moved him to her estate in Virginia.

From there, she decided that steeplechase racing was the way to go and Battleship was soon entered into his first jumps race in 1933.

Pleased with his efforts, the American Grand National was soon on the cards, and so in 1934, they headed to Belmont Park, where Battleship duly rewarded Scott’s faith in him by winning the race.

Unfortunately, the win took its toll, leaving Battleship suffering from an injury known as a bowed tendon. So it was back to Orange County in Virginia while Scott mapped out her path to the biggest race of them all – the Aintree Grand National.

Heading to England

Scott made the decision to send the Battleship to England in 1936, and the original plan was for him to run in the 1937 Grand National.

She hired Reg Hobbs to train him at his yard in Lambourn, but clearly, traveling and settling into his new home had taken its toll on Battleship, who ran unplaced in his first two races for Hobbs.

At this point, Reg handed the reins to his son Bruce, who managed to guide him into fourth place on their first outing together. It didn’t take long for the duo to notch up their first win at Sandown, and three months later, they were off to Cheltenham.

That particular race didn’t suit Battleship, and a fourth-place finish was enough to convince Hobbs that he wouldn’t be ready for the 1937 National.

He managed to persuade Scott to hold off for another year, and what a decision that turned out to be!

The 1938 Grand National

Despite being one of the smallest horses in the race, as he stood at just 15 hands 1 inch when typically the top steeplechasers are between 16 and 17 hands, Battleship had proven his detractors wrong before, and he was about to do it again.

The bookmakers didn’t think much of him, certainly not with 17-year-old Bruce Hobbs riding him, so he went off on odds of 40/1.

On the first circuit the duo landed badly at Becher’s, and unbeknownst to Hobbs, Battleship had actually cut his chin.

That injury was enough for him to veer sharply at the next fence, and later, Hobbs recalled that as he was about to fall off; he got shoved back into the saddle by none other than his fellow rider, Fred Rimmell.

While the race is never plain sailing, Hobbs and Battleship managed to complete the course without any more drama, only to have to fight tooth and nail to get to the finish line, beating second-place finisher Royal Danieli by a head.

To this day, Bruce Hobbs remains the youngest jockey ever to win the Grand National, and Battleship remains the only horse to have ever won both the American and Aintree Grand Nationals.

Returning Home

With her dream of winning at Aintree fulfilled, Marion DuPont Scott decided it was time to bring Battleship home.

Accompanied by Reg and Bruce Hobbs, the trio boarded the Manhattan for the trans-Atlantic trip in June 1938, arriving back in New York to a hero’s welcome.

He was retired to stud where his legacy continued as he sired the 1952 American Grand National winner, Sea Legs.

He lived a long and happy life, passing away in 1958, twenty years after his monumental win at Aintree, having proved that the odds don’t matter; only heart and determination can build champions.

As for Marion DuPont Scott, the accomplished and formidable horsewoman, she went on to create and develop Deleware Park, Fair Hill Racecourse, and Springdale Race Course, home to the Carolina Cup.

She also owned the Montpelier estate, the former home of US President James Madison, which she bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation upon her death in 1983. It is also where Battleship and his half-brother Annapolis are buried.