CRABBIE’S Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell felt his time away from the sport made him appreciate every aspect of it, even before hitting the headlines with Dr Richard Newland’s Pineau De Re at Aintree on Saturday.
Aspell, 37, lost his appetite for the game at the end of the 2006-07 season and by that July had decided enough was enough, handing in his licence. The following summer he began working for John Dunlop and started to miss it before reapplying again in April 2009, after which his career has taken off.
Aspell had a quiet night after the race, driving back down to his Sussex home and travelling back north to Market Rasen for four rides yesterday. “Since straight after the race it has been madness,” he said yesterday. “There was no way I was going to give up my rides today, though, they were booked well in advance and I picked up a spare.
“We haven’t had chance to celebrate yet, my parents flew back to Ireland last night and we had to get back to Sussex. We’ll have a party in a couple of weeks. I’ve had messages from people I haven’t seen or heard from in a long, long time – it’s been great. People have said I was a bit nonplussed after the race but it was a combination of being speechless and exhausted, I’d done a light weight the race before and he is a small horse and I had to sit tight a couple of times.
“He made a couple of mistakes after Tidal Bay barged into him at the 13th and he was a bit guessy at the next couple, but he got back into his own zone after the Canal Turn. He jumped the last few best of all.
“I think that was just my fifth ride for Richard but I’d been lucky that the few I’d had had run well and he’d stuck with me. He said he booked me because of the ride I gave Supreme Glory [second in the 2003 National] all those years ago and thankfully those are the things that people remember.
“I was so surprised at the pace we went, it was even which meant I didn’t have to force the horse – from the Canal Turn I was travelling very easy and I was just biding my time, I went to join Noel [on Rocky Creek] on the long run to two out and then win my race from there. He won his race from the last to the Elbow, he really picked up well, but then he started to get tired, it was a good feeling when he picked up when he did.
“The longer Richard has had him the more he has got to learn about the horse. He only has 12 horses so he gets to learn individual things about each one. He loves the staying chasers.
“The reason I retired was because I was having a quiet time, what I should have done was just have a long break over the summer because I’m always quiet then anyway. I’d got a bit stale and was a bit tired. I wasn’t enjoying the travelling and everything else. I picked up a job with John Dunlop in the summer and after a while I got the bug back so I decided to reapply [for his licence].
“I missed the competitive edge, I was still young enough and I still had it so I wanted to try again. It makes you appreciate everything more. It’s a short career and you get one crack. If you’re fit, healthy and able you should give it your best shot.
“After this, you never know what doors may open, I’ll be riding for the same people but any other rides or offers will be greatly appreciated.”
Looking placid and just a little tired as he appeared from his stable in a bright rug, Aspell’s 11-year-old mount was greeted by the friends and family of trainer Newland and his owner, Glasgow-born John Provan, as well as journalists, camera crews and dozens of others who descended the normally peaceful village of Claines, near Worcester, where Newland is based.
“There were about 300 people there having an impromptu party,” said Newland. “I hadn’t realised how much it had touched people – there were so many locals who were excited about a horse from Claines, a horse from Worcestershire, who had won the National.”
Newland, who was a general practitioner before establishing the private Newhall Medical Practice in Birmingham, seems to have life cracked. He built 12 stables next to his house and the gallop overlooks a stunning vale. Interested in racing first as a punter and then an owner, his curiosity led him to start training a few horses just for fun. This is no amateurish set-up, though, as the results have shown. He landed Cheltenham’s Coral Cup in his first season as a permit-holder and regularly supplies winners for Tony McCoy and Sam Twiston-Davies, who usually rides Pineau De Re. His half-a-dozen staff, like the hero’s groom Milly Murray, are all bright and impressive while Rod Trow, assistant trainer and main man when Newland is required in the business world, is an accomplished sports coach.
“Sam has first choice here but he had to ride Tidal Bay for Paul Nicholls,” Newland said. “It was brilliant winning with Leighton Aspell, a great jockey who I was happy to have, although at the same time I was sorry Sam missed out. Sam came out afterwards and gave us all a hug. That was class.”
Newland has no plans to expand the operation. He said: “This is a hobby, and I don’t see why we need to change. Sometimes with bigger trainers, who are under more pressure, I don’t know if it’s as enjoyable. I’m in a fortunate position, and I’m keen for the enjoyment not to go out of it.”
Newland and Provan have decided the horse will have a summer holiday before next year’s National is considered.
Meanwhile, it is likely to be a couple of days before a date is announced for the referral hearing into the start of the Grand National. Officials had called an inquiry after the starter reported the riders had lined up despite being advised by the assistant starter, who was positioned in front of the field, that it was not yet race time and then proceeded towards the start. The stewards’ report said that the riders moved forward and knocked down the assistant starter, Simon McNeill.
1st PINEAU DE RE 25-1
2nd Balthazar King 14-1 5 Lengths
3rd Double Seven 10-1JF, 1 1/4 Lengths
4th Alvarado 33-1, 10 Lengths
5th Rocky Creek 16-1, 2 1/2 Lengths
6th Chance Du Roy 33-1, Short Head
7th Monbeg Dude 16-1, 3 Lengths
8th Raz De Maree 50-1, 16 Lengths
9th Swing Bill 66-1, Short Head
10th Kruzhlinin 100-1 ,4 1/2 Lengths
11th Buckers Bridge 66-1, 2 1/2 Lengths
12th The Package 14-1, 18 Lengths
13th Vesper Bell 40-1, 6 Lengths
14th Across The Bay 50-1, 2 Lengths
15th Mr. Moonshine 20-1, 7 Lengths
16th Prince De Beauchene 20-1, 37 Lengths
17th Hunt Ball 50-1, 33 Lengths
18th Hawkes Point 50-1, 1 Length
Fence 1: Twirling Magnet (fell)
Fence 2: Burton Port (unseated)
Fence 3: Big Shu (fell)
Fence 6 (Becher’s Brook): Last Time D’Albain (unseated)
Fence 8: Tidal Bay (unseated), Our Father (unseated), Golan Way (fell)
Fence Nine: Long Run (fell), The Rainbow Hunter (unseated), Mountainous (fell)
Fence 15 (The Chair): Teaforthree (fell)
Fence 20: Shakalakaboomboom (pulled up)
Fence 21: Quito De La Roque (pulled up)
Fence 22: One In A Milan (fell), Triolo D’Alene (pulled up)
Fence 25: Colbert Station (pulled up)
Fence 26: Rose Of The Moon (fell), Vintage Star (pulled up)
Fence 27: Lion Na Bearnai (pulled up)
Fence 28: Wayward Prince (fell)
Fence 29: Walkon (pulled up)
Refused to race: Battle Group