Less than a length separated the two leaders as they approaced the penultimate fence. Both took off perfectly, almost together. Then came the cruelest stroke of ill-luck: Great Span's saddle slipped off entirely and 17-year-old rider Bill Payne, confident till that moment, found himself dumped ingloriously in the mud. His mount went steaming on to the finish.
The fiasco was virtually complete, all hope of a stirring finish apparently lost. Only two horses now survived—Billy Barton leading strongly. A rank outsider with artificial breathing apparatus, lumbering along, came after. Now the hundreds of American visitors cheered! If anything at all seemed certain on this mad March afternoon of mishaps it was that their Billy would win. Just one more fence remained before the last, long stretch, and he had far superior speed.
Suddenly, to a great "Oh" of astonishment from the enclosures, the unbelievable happened. Tipperary Tim, the disparaged nonhoper, was actually closing the gap—so swiftly that they rose almost together at the final fence. Could he do it? Impossible. Running wide throughout, with never a hoofprint in front of him, he had already covered an inordinate distance. He could never last the killing pace.
But this was a day for the seemingly impossible to happen, and so it was that Billy Barton, who had triumphed over the more dangerous timbers of Maryland, now fumbled his last jump. He hit the 30th hurdle, stumbled on landing and rider Tommy Cullinan slipped to the ground. In a flash he had remounted, but the damage was done. Those lost precious seconds gave Tim all the advantage he required.
Landing as surely as ever on his soup-plate feet, Tim squelched on through the heavy mud, the wheezing through his tubed throat drowned by the roaring of the sporting crowd who, for all their losses, could not ignore such an irresistible, albeit irrational, success. Billy Barton came in second, and last—beaten "by a distance," the record books say.
Never before had so few horses finished in the National: never had so many fallen. More sensationally it was the first time that a 100-to-1 shot had triumphed. Before the race Tipperary Tim was almost unknown; now crowds surged toward the paddock to see the freak winner. One man, wild with excitement, fought his way toward the beaming bookmakers, telling the world he had backed Tim the tortoise at 200-to-1.
A flabbergasted trainer explained that the horse had only been entered for the Grand National because "he never falls down." A triumphant rider pointed out that the longest way home had proved the surest in the end. The bookies made huge profits everywhere except in Tipperary, where other Tims, by no means tiny in number, had put their shillings on the winner.
Tim became a seven-day wonder and the most talked-about horse in the world. Then, only a year after winning a record prize of �11,180, the onetime stable hack from Cashel, County Tipperary, slipped back into obscurity. In 1929 he was sold for a trilling �50 at the Royal Dublin Society Horse Show.
His hour of glory was over, but even today it seems unlikely that there will ever again be another Grand National winner quite like him.