Did Venetia Williams break her neck in the Grand National?

As far as the Grand National is concerned, Venetia Williams is best known for saddling 100/1 outsider Mon Mome to victory in 2009, making her just the second woman, after the ‘Queen of Aintree’, Jenny Pitman, to train the winner of the celebrated steeplechase. However, 21 years earlier, as a promising amateur rider with ten winners to her name, Williams did ride in the Grand National for the one and only time.

On April 9, 1988, Williams lined up on the 200/1 rank outsider Marcolo, trained by the late Peter Ransom, but parted company with her mount at the sixth fence, the infamous Becher’s Brook, and was knocked unconscious in the process. Williams was detained in hospital with a whiplash injury but, two weeks later, was deemed fit enough to return to the saddle.

However, in her very first ride back after Aintree, Williams suffered what turned out to be a much more serious fall in a novice hurdle at Worcester, which effectively ended her career. She landed head first and suffered a so-called ‘hangman’s fracture’ to her second cervical vertebra, which forms a ring around the spinal cord. Any displacement, or movement, of the fractured bone can cause damage to the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis or even death. Thankfully, in Williams’ case the fracture remained stable but, by her own admission, she was ‘very lucky, lucky not to have died.’ She nevertheless spent two months in traction.