International eventer Zara Phillips will be taking a closer interest than most equestrians in next weekend’s Grand National steeplechase at Aintree.
Phillips has worked closely with starter Monbeg Dude to improve his jumping. The horse is part-owned by her husband, Mike Tindall, along with fellow rugby internationals James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson, and trainer Michael Scudamore.
Monbeg Dude, who was bought for just £12,000 at a Cheltenham sale in January 2010, is now 20/1 co-third favourite for the Aintree showpiece with official betting partner Betfred. It is a dream for Scudamore, who has around 15 horses, and only two staff to help him and his girlfriend at his stables.
“It’s great to have a runner in the race and to win would be very special,” said Scudamore. “We’re trying to do what we can and get him there in the best possible state. The rest is in the lap of the gods.
“I think this is one of the best Nationals ever and it’s a hugely competitive race. But he deserves to take his chance and there are 39 others and 30 fences to get in the way.”
“A lot has come together with the horse and Zara’s input has been huge. Her work has just made him a little more aware where his feet are over the obstacles. That’s what eventing horses is all about – they have a completely different way of looking at it.
“Accuracy and speed are more the National Hunt thing while eventers look at how it is done.”
Scudamore said it was his jockey brother Tom who first alerted connections that their £12,000 purchase could be a little out of the ordinary.
“It all really started when Tom rode him at Newbury and said he could be a National horse, although he couldn’t say whether it was a Welsh or Aintree National. He was proved right about the Welsh bit and it would be great to get the other bit now.
Scudamore’s grandfather, also Michael, won the 1959 Grand National aboard Oxo although his champion jockey father Peter never won the race.
Tindall has juggled his rugby commitments to ensure that he will be Aintree for the big race.
“I’ve never been to the Grand National before and it’s just something having a runner. It’s going to be tight because I’ll be training early on Saturday but I’ll get up there and watch the race. Unfortunately if we do well I’ll have to come straight back down and we’ll have to delay the celebrations,” he added.
Recalling the horse’s purchase, he continued: “It was not an intentional thing in any shape or form when we bought the horse. We were extremely lucky to get him and I haven’t tried to buy another, I think we used all our luck when we got this horse. He’s been brilliant for us.
“James, me and Zara were at the sale with Scu and he was an impulse buy, all the other horses that night made £20,000-plus so I thought I would be out-bid. But the bidding suddenly stopped with him. Zara wasn’t happy when I got landed with him! I went to look at him in the stable and he looked tiny. We then had to find a way of transporting him so Scu had to drive home and come back with the box.
“It took a while for us to work out the horse but he’d won a point-to-point in Ireland and is a battler. I don’t know much about horses but one thing I learned from Zara with eventers is that if you have one that tries you are 90 per cent there and he is a trier.”
Tindall’s own interest in racing has blossomed through his relationship with Zara Phillips and now his venture into ownership.
“From where I come from, we never went racing much as I was growing up, although we obviously took an interest in the National. But I got more into it when I started going out with Zara, who is very into racing and goes to Cheltenham every year. Gradually through that I got to meet some of the jockeys and then the trainers and it’s gone from there.
“Now when I go home I’ll switch on Racing UK, At The Races or Channel 4 Racing and watch what has been going on in the races. It’s an education and I’m still learning.”
Tindall believes Monbeg Dude has reaped the benefits of his wife’s weekly schooling.
“After the Welsh National, Zara said he was not quite respecting his fences and was lazy with his jumping. So she started doing some pole work with him and getting him sharp on his feet. The progression is there to see, now he bounces over his fences. He travels a lot better now and is conserving his energy and speed.
“He goes to Gatcombe most Mondays to do it, in the outdoor arena. He was there a couple of days ago and will go on Monday ahead of Aintree.”
Co-owner James Simpson-Daniel added: “When The Lord (Tindall) started bidding I tried to remind him he wasn’t at a charity auction bidding £20 for a rugby ball! I got a kick under the table from my wife when I said I’d take a share.
“He’s been a very special horse and it’s been a dream for us. We bought a horse for next to nothing compared to what others spend and we have had just the most amazing time.”
Monbeg Dude will be ridden by Paul Carberry in the £1 million race on April 5. Carberry was on board when the nine-year-old captured the Welsh National at Chepstow in January, 2013.