After Aintree, area's trainers treasure National memories
Fate bestowed contrasting fortunes on the Borders entrants in the world's greatest steeplechase.
One managed to stay the Grand National course, while the other unfortunately came a cropper at the fence after Becher’s Brook.
But both have spoken about what an exhilarating experience it was on Saturday to take part for the first time at Aintree – and both are looking eagerly ahead to next year’s National.
Seeyouatmidnight, trained by Sandy Thomson, of Greenlaws, near Kelso, was up in second position towards the later stages but eventually finished 11th.
Captain Redbeard, trained by Selkirk’s Stuart Coltherd, unfortunately dislodged his rider, Stuart’s 19-year-old son Sam, at the seventh.
The Last Samuri, 2016’s runner-up, owned by St Boswells couple Clare and Paul Rooney, decided his race was run at the 26th and pulled up.
The event was won in a photo finish by Tiger Roll, ridden by the oldest jockey in the field, 38-year-old Davy Russell.
Fortunately, neither Captain Redbeard nor Sam Colterd were injured when the race came to an end for them – Sam even quipped that he “went out the side door”.
He added he was a little bit annoyed, but managed to get a spare ride on another horse in the last race of the day, following an injury to jockey Charlie Deutsch, when Houblon Des Obeaux fell at the fence before Sam.
“I had done all the hard work at the start – I hadjumped and got into perfect postion behind the leaders, in fifth or sixth,” Sam recalled.
“We jumped perfectly but he (Captain Redbeard) just put an extra wee stride in. He went right and I went left.”
The seventh was one of the smallest fences on the course, added Sam, but everything happens quickly and you only have a split second – it was ‘just one of those things’.
“I was next to the winner at the time, so who knows – I might have won the race. That’s what I’m telling people!” he said. “But we will be back next year.”
Sam added it was a superb experience for himself and everyone in the team – there was a great atmosphere at Aintree and everyone was very welcoming.
It was the biggest achievement in his career, being a 19-year-old rider in the National.
He reflected that, if Davy Russell could win, at around twice his age, Sam might have another 20 attempts or so to do it.
Sam’s dad, Stuart, said the family were moving on to the next set of races but very much hoped to be back at Aintree in 2019.
“You have got to just move on,” said Stuart.
“We didn’t just go to make the numbers up – we went with a realistic chance, but it didn’t happen. It’s a case now of keep going, focus on the next race and look ahead to next year.
“It doesn’t get any better than being down there on Saturday,” added Stuart. “It’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world. It was great to be part of it, great to be there and a great atmosphere. Hats off to Aintree.”
There wasn’t much chance of a rest for the Coltherds after the euphoria of the Grand National – they had horses racing at Newcastle on Sunday, Kelso on Monday and Carlisle on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Sandy Thomson said he was absolutely thrilled with how Seeyouatmidnight had acquitted himself – and had he not been deprived of extra race practice by the bad winter weather, his fortunes might have been even better.
The whole experience was “pretty nerve-wracking”, said Sandy, especially as he watched the horse’s fortunes fluctuating throughout the race.
“I am delighted with the way he has travelled and jumped,” he said. “He gave everyone a big thrill.
“Canal Turn, Valentine’s ... four out, it looked like he was going to be there or thereabouts – and then, I think, just a very interrupted preparation with the weather got the better of him, and he just hasn’t quite got home.”
Seeyouatmidnight, ridden by Brian Hughes, was one of only 12 finishers at Aintree and, at the 27th fence, he was in second place, then third at the 28th, before slipping back to 11th position.
Fatigue and possibly a lack of fitness had caused him to fade, reckoned Sandy.
“We had huge problems getting races into him, because of the weather,” he added.
The 10-year-old also had a suspension ligament injury around Christmas, which had cleared up. But, possibly, another couple of races in the build-up to the National might have topped up his tank.
Sandy, however, stressed he had really enjoyed the occasion.
“It was absolutely amazing to be a part of such a huge event, and to go there looking like he had a real chance – brilliant,” he said.
Sandy had said before the race it was well known that a lot could happen during the National.
“We have seen it over the years in the race – a huge amount can change in these last three or four fences.
“You’re thinking it’s absolutely brilliant – you are there and this could really happen, then there’s the sudden realisation it’s not going to happen.
“But it’s still just brilliant. I am delighted with the horse.”
Sandy added: “I haven’t spoken at length with the owner but the plan will be to go back next year and, hopefully, we will get a good preparation.
“We know he jumps and he has stayed four miles in the past so, hopefully, that will be the plan and we will get there.”