When Maori Venture won the Grand National in 1987 it was his first and last appearance in the Aintree race. Sired by St Columbus out of Moon Venture, he was bred by Welsh publican Dai ‘Maori’ Morgan, so nicknamed because of his ventures to New Zealand where he played rugby. The horse won a Taunton bumper at the age of five, at odds of 50-1, and under his new owner Major Jack Rubin was sent to Jim Old for training. His first notable win over fences was in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury on New Year’s Eve 1984.
His owner’s death meant he was sold on at the Ascot sales, where he was bought by Marlborough trainer Andrew Turnell on behalf of Mr Joel for 17,000 guineas. Not long after the sale Maori Venture won four races at Lingfield, but on the run up to the 1987 Grand National he showed very mixed form, and gathered himself a bit of a reputation as an unsafe jumper. While he came third in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, won the Mandarin Chase for the second time and was runner-up in Sandown’s Grand Military Gold Cup, he was also unplaced in one race and fell in another – falling in the run up to the National is never a good thing, and many began to believe that there was no way that he would manage the Aintree fences with their formidable reputation.
Mr Joel; whose previous entry to the National, Door Latch was well fancied, but ended up falling at the first fence; entered Maori Venture almost resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to do well. He went off twelfth in the betting at 28-1, ridden by Steve Knight. The gelding didn’t do anything special on the first circuit, in fact it was a wonder he stayed standing considering his nose touched the ground on landing after Becher’s Brook, but he managed to see it through. The second circuit saw him transform – he started jumping with precision, something he had never previously done, and started to increase his pace. He began closing on the leaders which included Lean Ar Aghaidh who was demonstrating excellent jumping form, and by the last he joined The Tsarevich – he won from them by four and five lengths respectively. The favourite West Tip, the previous year’s winner, came fourth while second favourite Dark Ivy had suffered a fatal fall at the first Bechers.
Maori Venture achieved the then third fastest time on record in the National and gave his owner Mr Joel his big race double – he had won the 1967 Epsom Derby with Royal Palace – the ninety-two year old had started trying to win the National in 1957. When he found out that he had won the National he was in mid flight from South Africa to England, and declared at the celebrations the following day that Maori Venture was to retire to Childwick Stud – he left him in his will to Steve Knight, his winning jockey.