Wild Man From Borneo
The Widger family were a family of horse breeders and dealers, Tom Widger the head of the family was the supplier of many horses to the cavalry regiments throughout Europe. Tom produced five fine sons, the youngest of which as Joe a born horseman who could ride almost before he could walk. Joe's ambition was to be a full time jockey and win The Grand National and with that in mind at the age of fourteen he absconded from school and ran away to ride his first winner at Bangor.
In 1893 he, along with his brother John bought a horse to ride in The Grand National the horse was Wild Man From Borneo, they entered him as soon as they could in the 1894 race. In the race Wild Man From Borneo put up a brave performance and was up with the leader for all of the race. In the closing stages of the race there were three horses that pulled away from the field, Wild Man From Borneo, Lady Ellen II and the previous years third place the very smart 13 year old Why Not. As they approached the second last Why Not took the lead but Joe got his horse to give a little more and Wild Man From Borneo got the better of Why Not and again took the lead.
But Why Not was not beaten yet he fought back in the closing stages to again take the lead and went a length up and the fast finishing Lady Ellen II was also closing on the two of them. At the tape Why Not was the one and a half lengths the winner and Joe and Wild Man From Borneo were passed on the line by Lady Ellen II and had to settle for third place. Joe said shortly after the race that he did not realize how good the horse was and vowed to bring back the horse to take part in the race the following year.
The weather leading up to the 1895 Grand National was not good and the ground for the great race was heavy on the day. Joe was as good as hid word and brought the great horse back for another crack at the race.
The previous years winner Why Not was taking his chance again at the age of fourteen, and was given 12st to carry in the race. Wild Man From Borneo was also given more weight to carry on the back of his good performance and was raised 16lbs to carry 10st 11lbs. This year was also to see one of the greatest Aintree racehorses to make his debut at the racecourse, this was the magnificent Manifesto, and as if this was not enough the 1892 winner Father O'Flynn was also lining up at the start.
The race was an uneventful race and Joe gave his horse a magnificent ride and kept the horse just off the pace behind the leaders his tactics for the day was to ride his horse close to the rail. Going down the back of the racecourse for the second time, the two horses in front were Cathal and Manifesto but Joe was not far behind and he kept his mount in touch with them both and bided his time. As the horses came the final bend nothing had changed and Joe sat tight on his mount knowing he had plenty left in the tank. As the horses approached the second last the front two were fighting for the lead and Joe still did not move.
At the last Wild Man From Borneo was in third place but after safely jumping the fence the horse was finally given his head and went past the two in front. When rousted along Wild Man From Borneo went on to give Joe his longed for achievement and won the race a little cheekily by one and a half-lengths from Cathal. A fast finishing Van Der Berg was to deny Manifesto third place with Why Not back in fifth. There was much celebration back in the Widger's Irish hometown of Waterford and the celebrations went on long into the following nights.
Joe was to bring Wild Man From Borneo back to Liverpool twice in the following years but he did not recapture the form of 1895. In 1896 he fell and in 1897 he was Entered in the race under different owners colours, he was in the colours of Miss Norris who then became the first lady to have a runner in the race, and who later married Joe. He was pulled up in the race but this does not detract from the fine performance Wild Man From Borneo and his amateur rider and part owner put up on that grey day in 1895.
Nowadays when the successful connections of the race winner are to be interviewed after the race they are taken to the Freebooter room, named after the 1950 winner of the race, and on the wall is a tribute in the form of the mounted head of Wild Man From Borneo who looks down on the winning connections, as if to say "What's all this fuss about I did this over a century ago".