The Pitman family has a special association with the Grand National, with Jennifer being just 14 months old when she was first put on a pony. When she was 15 her father George Harvey who trained point-to-pointers gave his daughter her first ride in a race on Dan Archer. Just before her 15th birthday Pitman left school taking up a position as a stable girl at Brooksby Grange, where she stayed for two years until moving to a stable in Bishops Cleeve in Gloucestershire, the first time she had lived away from her Leicestershire home.
But it wasn’t just her immediate family connections with racing that enhanced Pitman’s racing career – her first husband Richard Pitman, who she married in her teens, was a jockey, and they slowly began taking in a few liveries and then building up their own point-to-point yard.
The First Female Trainer to Win the Grand National in 1983 with Corbiere
Due to sheer force of will and talent she turned the derelict yard into a first-class training complex. She had her first win under Rules in 1975 and won the 1977 Midlands National on Watafella. Her first entry into the Grand National was The Songwriter, a 200-1 rank outsider, whose presence was completely eclipsed by Red Rum’s third triumph, and unfortunately was pulled up by Bryan Smart at Becher’s second time round.
In 1982 she won the Welsh National with Corbiere, who went on to win the Grand National in 1983, winning by three quarters of a length from Greasepaint.
This win made her the first woman to train a winner of the National and in 1984 she became the first woman to saddle the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Burrough Hill Lad, who had already won the Welsh National in 1983, and would go on to win a Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup and a King George VI Chase.
In 1984 Corbiere came third in the Grand National, and did the same in 1985, while 1986 saw her take a third Welsh National with Stearsby. In 1991 Garrsion Savannah gained Pitman her second Cheltenham Gold Cup victory, this time with her son Mark in the saddle. 1995 saw Pitman enter three horses – Garrison Savannah, Royal Athlete and Esha Ness, with her firm favourites being the former two, and son Mark had difficulty in choosing which to ride, so closely matched were they.
It was Esha Ness who shocked them all by finishing first, but to no purpose as this was the year that the race was voided, due to the failure of Jockey Club officials to operate their starting system – a double blow to Pitmans when you consider that Esha Ness had registered the second fastest time in National history (9min 1.4sec).
In 1997, she became the only trainer other than Martin Pipe to win all of the big four Grand Nationals, when Mudahim won the Jameson Irish Grand National. In 1998 Pitman was awarded the OBE for services to horseracing and she retired from training horses in 1999, having had a career total of 797 wins, handing over the reins to her son Mark.
She now writes novels with a racing spin and having survived thyroid cancer is a patron of the British Thyroid Foundation. In 2000 she was presented with the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration which is awarded to women who have overcome adversity and proved an exceptional commitment to sport, inspiring others in the process – an award she truly deserves, having (excluding her trio of the void race of 1993) sent out 39 runners scoring two firsts, one second and three thirds in the Grand National.