FOR a jockey, trainer and owner to win a single Grand National is an extraordinary achievement. To do it in successive years with two different horses would make them the stuff of legend. That’s the possibility facing “Team Moonshine” as the Crabbie’s Grand National approaches. Owners Jim Beaumont, Douglas Pryde and David van der Hoeven, who are so familiar on Scottish tracks, plus Scottish jockey Ryan Mania and training duo Sue and Harvey Smith famously won last year’s Aintree marathon with 66-1 shot Auroras Encore. Now the same group has a chance of repeating the feat with Mr Moonshine.
If the ten-year-old son of Double Eclipse can win the 2014 race, and he’s currently between 33-1 and 50-1 to do so, Team Moonshine will be up there with no less a racing legend than Vincent O’Brien, who trained Royal Tan to win the 1954 National a year after saddling Early Mist to win the race, with jockey Bryan Marshall in the plate for both victories, and owner Joe Griffin pocketing the winnings on both occasions. Before that, James Machell owned Disturbance and Reugny, ridden on both occasions by gentleman jockey John Maunsell Richardson, to win the 1873 and 1874 runnings. Could Team Moonshine do it again in 2013 and 2014?
For Mania, it is the chance to become the first jockey since Brian Fletcher aboard Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 to win the National back-to-back. The man from Galashiels has had, by his own account, a remarkable 12 months since winning the National at his first attempt. He was just finishing off being the Braw Lad for his home town’s annual festival when he won at Aintree and, in September, his partner Edwina gave birth to their first child, Rowan Timothy. “The past year has just been incredible,” said Mania. “In the space of a year or so, from becoming Braw Lad to finding out that I was going to be a dad, then winning the Grand National, and then becoming a father, it was just extraordinary. I have also done so much that I would not normally have done, such as making appearances at events and a lot of media work, which I really enjoy.”
Young Rowan Timothy is his pride and joy. “It is scary how they change so quickly. Sometimes I am away a few days at a time with my work and then when I go home he is different every time I see him.”
Mania has maintained his excellent form in the saddle and, as stable jockey to the Smiths, is happy to be part of the team high up in the Yorkshire hills near Bingley. The biggest win of his career hasn’t made him fabulously wealthy but it has been a bolster to his confidence.
“It is not the big help up the ladder that you might think,” said Mania. “It doesn’t guarantee anything but what it does do is give your confidence a boost. I had not really won any big races and you think ‘maybe I’ll never win one of the big ones’, as it’s just not something that enters your head. It’s different if you’re riding down south all the time and riding a lot of nice horses, but we are confined to the north and there are not a lot of big races to win. So, when you win one of the biggest, it is great for your confidence.
“It gave the whole yard a boost. Sue and Harvey were actually trying to gear things down before it happened but now they have more horses then ever. They are such a good team, they work well with each other, and it’s a pleasure to be part of it.”
Harvey Smith’s background as a showjumper has been a big help to Mania.
He said: “He gave me plenty of advice the previous November when I rode over the National fences then but, when we got to the National itself, there was nothing more said. He knew what I was doing, that I had a plan, and he just said ‘that’s fine’.
“Harvey has 65 years’ experience and you can’t buy that. If there’s ever a problem he will have an answer for it. He’s actually a genius – he just thinks differently from everybody and that’s what it takes to be a genius.”
Mania was delighted to win the National for long-time friend Jim Beaumont, the Liverpudlian who long ago made his home in Scotland. Mania said: “I haven’t known Douglas Pryde long but I’ve known Jim since I started in racing and he’s always been a lovely man. I always wanted to ride for him and it was like a fairytale that I rode a National winner for him – something he had always wanted.”
Described by Mania as “a bit more sensitive” than Auroras Encore, Mr Moonshine is no outsider in his books.
“He’s got a great chance,” said Mania. “He should be in the first ten in the betting, he’s a classy horse and the only negative is ‘does he stay?’ and, if he stays, he’ll be bang there.”
Mr Moonshine, who was pulled up in last year’s National, showed again in the Becher Chase over the National fences earlier this season that the big obstacles do not faze him.
“He surprised me in the Becher,” said Mania. “I kept saying ‘this is a waste of time’ but Harvey was sure he would stay. He got outpaced and then stayed on, and I realised then that he had gone the same distance as he did in the National last year before he got tired. He’s a different horse this year, so I’m hoping that we can get involved in the finish.”
Trainer Sue Smith thinks her charges are ahead of where they were last year. “We had a particularly bad winter, because we’re up high and, if anybody is going to catch the weather, we do. But, once the weather settled down and the Grand National came along, the horses were in good form and we kept rolling on,” she said. “We have had a fantastic season, we can’t complain one bit.” Now it’s all about getting Mr Moonshine to Aintree intact. “He’s in great order, he loves the fences and that’s a big bonus. He’s not intimidated by the track, and it’s a matter now of whether he gets the trip. The Becher was three miles, three furlongs, so he’s got to find that other mile. He’s a very nice horse, a peach to train, and an absolute pet. I would go there being very hopeful.”
Douglas Pryde would love to win again. He said: “It’s been a wonderful year, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, and it’s been great being the Aintree champions, the Grand National winners, and we get a welcome wherever we go. Mr Moonshine has to prove that he’s better than Auroras Encore, and to do that he has to win on April 5.
“I’m hopeful, we know he jumps round the track, he’s got a good racing weight, he’s got a very good jockey who’s riding with great confidence, and if he stays and if the ground is right for him then the slow boats will find it difficult to catch him.”
Auroras Encore was retired after injuring himself, and Jim Beaumont quipped: “It’s a pity Aurora couldn’t have his encore.”
He is confident of a good showing from Mr Moonshine: “He’s looking well, he loves Aintree and if the going is good, or good to soft, he will be delighted. The distance is a question mark but he finished best of all in the Becher, picking up ten lengths between the last fence and the finishing line.”
That extra mile does make all the difference in the National, but if the horse stays he does have a serious chance – and that’s no moonshine.