Rubio has gone down in history as the first American bred Grand National Winner but there is more to this story, as I will now tell.
The tale of Rubio is a most extraordinary one. It starts in the USA where a breeder by the name of Mr. J.B. Haggin. Mr Haggin sent many horses from his stud in Rancho Del Paso in California to the Newmarket sales in this country primarily to run on the flat.
Rubio's breeding was good, his sire was Star Ruby who had been bred by the Duke of Westminster. Star Ruby had won nine races and perhaps crucially had won a race over 4 miles.
Rubio was bought by a Northamptonshire farmer and horse dealer Mr. Septimus Clarke for the sum of 15 guineas in 1899. Mr Clarke was a good horse trader and he later sold the horse as a hunter to Major Frank Douglas-Pennant for the sum of 95 guineas however the formal return of sales gives Major Douglas-Pennant as his buyer at Newmarket for the original 15 guineas.
Major Douglas-Pennant hunted Rubio as a four year old but he was good judge of a horse as soon noticed that the horse always had more in reserve than the horses around him and always seemed to be the horse that took everything in his stride. With this in mind Major Douglas-Pennant sent the horse to be sold as a potential racehorse with a reserve of 60 guineas, however Rubio failed to reach his reserve and the Major decided as a five year old to send him to be trained as a racehorse with the successful trainer Brian Bletsoe.
Rubio's first year was a successful one he won three races from three starts. But tragedy was soon on the way as he broke down badly and at the advice of the vets was removed from training.
This is where the most extraordinary part of the tale was to be come. In order to try and get the horse sound again the horse was given the unique task of being sent to the landlord of the Prospect Arms Hotel in Towcester to pull an omnibus in a harness in order to ferry guests between the station and the hotel. It was felt by his owner that this constant roadwork would be the ideal solution to his problems. Rubio did very well at his newfound role and it seemed to do the trick, soon his legs were healing and tales were told of the horse covering thirty-one miles at a single stretch. It certainly seemed to work for him and it was so successful that in 1906 just three years later he was back in training. This time his trainer was to be Mr. Fred Withington at Danebury. Rubio was got back to race fitness and ran once in his first year back at Kempton and came third.
In 1907 Rubio ran three times winning once at Towcester when carrying 12 stone.
In 1908 the horse was doing well and was entered in the Grand National however he was not fancied indeed he was not even the first string in his own stable as they had another horse, a very smart performing mare, Mattie Macgregor. There are two tales of how the jockeys for this race were chosen the first was that as this mare who had ran really well previously in Ireland was seen as the prime ride in the stable and the ride was given to the first class jockey E. Piggott and this led to the stable jockey W.Bissill being given the ride on Rubio. Bissill was very unhappy about having to ride the stables second string, however he was not to be disappointed as one of the owners that Piggott rode for in France would not release him to come to Liverpool and the prime ride was given to Bissill. The second story tells of how Bissell was given the choice of rides after the horses were galloped over 4 miles. Bissell choose Mattie Macgregor and the trainer was said to have been overheard telling that he thought that Bissell had chosen the wrong one. Whichever tale is true the ride on Rubio was offered to the jockey that had previously had winning rides on him as a five-year-old one H.B.Bletsoe the son of the former trainer of Rubio. As a relatively inexperienced rider he jumped at the chance.
However for these stories to be true the horse must have been in the same stable as Mattie McGregor however Rubio was trained by William Costello for the race so the stories although maybe having some truth may not be reliable.
There were 24 runners in the race and the 1905 winner Kirkland headed the betting.
At the start of the race Bletsoe commented, "The horse was watching everything and was very sensible". Bletsoe had tried to take the inside line but was unable to do so and so he just rode the horse sensibly. Three grand national horses fell at the first but Rubio jumped it will. At the canal turn on the first circuit he was in fourth place and jumped it well but at one of the subsequent fences Rubio hit a fence hard and at the same fence Rollason fell. Bletsoe then decided then he would steady the horse down to give him a second wind even though this lost him places in the race. At the water jump he took off far too early but still managed to jump it well. On the start of the second circuit there were only seven of the runners left. The second circuit saw no problems for Rubio with tired horses making mistakes around him he was soon in front disputing first place with Mattie Macgregor, with Flaxman and Kirkland just behind. As they came around the final bend Rubio was out jumping his rivals and in particular jumping away from his field. Bletsoe thought at this point that his horse was going so well that he only had to stay on his feet to win and this was what happened he cleared the last in front and went clear to win the race by 10 lengths from Mattie Macgregor. Kirkland fell at the last but remounted to finish.
It has been reported that Rubio finishing first and Mattie Macgregor second meant the trainer Mr. Withington, was probably the first trainer to have the first two home, however Rubio was actually trained by William Costello (left) and not Mr. Withington.
To end this tale Rubio ran in the following years race this time ridden by Bissell but unfortunately he fell.
And so ends this fascinating story of the "Cab horse that pulled a bus and then went on to win the worlds greatest steeplechase".