FOR the second year running, the winning horse in the Crabbie’s Grand National was owned by a Scot, Glaswegian John Provan sharing ownership of Pineau De Re with trainer Dr Richard Newland.
Provan was having his first runner in the National, as was the case last year when Jim Beaumont and Douglas Pryde were the victorious Scottish connections of Aurora’s Encore. At one point on the second circuit yesterday, last year’s winning Scottish jockey Ryan Mania had this year’s Beaumont and Pryde entry, Mr Moonshine, at the front and looking good for a win, though he eventually faded to finish 15th.
Pineau De Re, an 11-year-old who went off at the rewarding odds of 25-1, was given an inspired ride by veteran jockey Leighton Aspell and eventually prevailed by five lengths over 14-1 shot Balthazar King, the mount of Richard Johnson, with Tony McCoy aboard the third-placed 10-1 joint favourite Double Seven in the famous colours of JP McManus.
Alvarado, a 33-1 shot, was a further ten lengths away in fourth, ahead of Rocky Creek, Chance Du Roy and Monbeg Dude. Some 18 of the 40 starters completed the course, and no horse or jockey was injured.
The victory represented a triumph for the sort of people who are the backbone of National Hunt racing, Dr Newland being a GP in Birmingham before his recent retirement to concentrate on training after some initial successes.
His friend Provan was an amateur jockey turned businessman with a few horses for a hobby, and they bought the winner after watching him win last year’s Ulster Grand National – suffice to say they did not pay anywhere near yesterday’s first prize of £561,300.
Leighton Aspell has always been one of those jumps jockeys who impresses with his dedication and humility. The delight on the faces of his fellow jockeys for “one of their own” winning the big race was genuine.
Typical of their reaction was that of third-placed jockey AP McCoy: “Jumping the third-last I thought I had a chance of winning, but then I think the dead ground found him out. Dr Newland and Leighton are nice people and it’s great for them to win it.”
Though he has had a Cheltenham Festival winner – Overstrand in the 2007 Coral Cup – Newland’s base at Claines in Worcestershire is one of the smallest racing operations in the land, and with what some might term typical Glaswegian gallusness, Provan quipped: “We love taking on the big boys!”
Like Ryan Mania before him, Aspell had fallen out of love with the game and given up riding, but he missed racing so much that he came back at the start of this season and at the age of 37 is riding better than ever, as his performance yesterday showed.
He was also the coolest man at Aintree after he crossed the finishing line, betraying little emotion.
He explained: “I feel a combination of tiredness and adrenaline. He’s a small horse and he had to try to do well on the jumps, which he did. I’ve been watching the National since I was a young boy and it is great just to have the chance to ride in it. This is why I came back to the sport.
“Once we set out on the second circuit it was a stable race and I rode it steadily, I could feel a few on our heels but was aware that I needed just to keep in front and not to race him too hard.
“When you turn round and see all your friends and connections it’s a great feeling.”
Dr Newland said: “We are so lucky to have such a lovely horse. It’s a dream come true – a dream that we’ve had for about 30 years.
“John Provan is one of my oldest racing friends. We’ve been coming here for over 20 years, before I started training – he had horses before me and taught me a lot about it.
“Leighton is a top-class jockey – he had a plan and delivered it superbly. One of the reasons I put him on the horse was because he’s had a bit of a comeback season. I just thought maybe, with his confidence high, he could go one better.”
The story of the race was, as always with the Grand National, about attrition and survival over the big fences and the four-and-a-half mile distance.
There was a false start when 40-1 shot Battle Group did not join the line-up, and when he refused to race when the tapes went up for the second time, the starter let them go without him.
The charge to the first was noticeably slower after the false start, but Twirling Magnet still fell at the first and hampered several horses, before the fancied Burton Port and Big Shu went at the second and third respectively.
Perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy performed wonders on Double Seven to survive a bad blunder at the fence before Becher’s Brook, before Last Time D’Albain came down at the Brook itself.
Gloan Way fell at the eighth, where Tidal Bay and Our Father unseated Sam Twiston-Davies and Denis O’Regan respectively.
Long Run, Mountainous and Rainbow Hunter all ended their races at Valentine’s Brook, with many of the riders having to take evasive action which had the effect of thinning out the field.
Aspell did superbly well at the 13th as the eventual winner made a hash of the fence, before the other joint favourite Teaforthree fell at the biggest fence on the course, The Chair.
The leader at this point, Across The Bay, was carried out by loose horse Tidal Bay as they moved on to the second circuit and so well was he going that his connections – the Red Rum McCain dynasty – will feel they lost out on a potential winner.
Rocky Creek and Mr Moonshine cut out the running for most of the second circuit, and it looked as though Mania might well be riding a second National winner in succession, but there was always a doubt as to whether Sue Smith’s charge would stay the marathon distance, and sadly for Team Moonshine, he faded badly in the final half mile.
Aspell always had Pineau De Re hunting up the leaders and, two out, he took the lead.
Johnson on Balthazar King and McCoy on Double Seven went off in pursuit, and to have the finest jockey never to win a championship and the 18-times champion after you would have spooked many a rider – but not Aspell, who placed Pineau De Re perfectly at the final fence and was rewarded with a colossal leap.
From there it was just a case of keeping going to the line, and for once it can be said that the nice guys won.