Harvey Smith scaled the heights over four decades in his career as a showjumper and is thrilled to have been involved in winning jump racing’s most famous prize, when Auroras Encore provided a 66/1 shock result to the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National.
“We’ve always fancied him for this because he is a lovely horse. He was only beaten a whisker in the Scottish National and he’d been given a lovely weight here,” said Smith, who was congratulated by Olympic gold medallist Nick Skelton.
“We’d taken him schooling and for a racecourse gallop and I’d knocked the jockey into shape as well! Ryan’s enjoying life as well now and I don’t think anybody will be nicking him from me.
“People have asked how this compares with showjumping but I like to look forward so this is the best and I hope there’s more to come. I’ll have to keep going to 100 now!
“I had 45 years of showjumping and won my first major championship in 1956, when most people here were not even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes. This is conquering England but I conquered the world in that.
“I’ve had a good life with horses. We started messing about with racehorses over 20 years ago and got sucked into it. It keeps you young and I won’t be retiring.
“I was chatting to another trainer the other day and his father always said there’s two chairs that will kill you – the electric chair and the armchair.
“National Hunt racing is far better than the flat stuff and I think racing in the north will come back with a bang after this.”
Following the win, Sue Smith, 65, said: “I should be in tears, like Harvey. Ryan (Mania) gave the horse such a good ride. We knew the ground was right, we knew everything else was and it was.
“It’s been the first time for a while (since 2006) since we’ve had runners in the race so the main thing was that we hoped the horses and jockeys would come round in one piece. To finish in the first five would have been marvellous but this is something else.
“Ryan has given the horse a magnificent ride and it was Harvey that sent a messenger to come to join our stable.”
“We (Harvey and I) do the training together. Harvey is a hard man. You can’t knock him down and he get gets everyone working hard, including the horses.
Sue Smith has developed a formidable training operation at Craiglands Farm, 1000 feet up on the Yorkshire Moors at High Eldwick near Bingley, where she first took out a permit to train in 1990 and a full licence the following year. Although she rode (as Susan Dye) in Britain’s first ladies’ race and her late father owned horses with Arthur Pitt, she was brought up on showjumping, and met Harvey at Hickstead.
The Smiths share the duties of their training operation, with Sue looking after the day-to-day training and the entries, and Harvey taking care of the gallops, feeding and driving the box to the races. Harvey Smith personally laid down 18 furlongs of all-weather training strips surfaced with a mixture that includes pig hair.
Harvey Smith said: “I sat watching the whole race and didn’t miss a beat. When he came away after the last I thought ‘eh we are in now’.
“I rode around here years ago and the fences weren’t soft and pussy-foot like they are now but it was some experience and led us in a little bit to us doing the job.
When quizzed about the changes to the course and fences, he responded: “Absolutely beautiful. All the horses came back in one piece and so did the jockeys. There were over 30 still standing going out on the second circuit so full marks to Aintree, Lord Daresbury, Andrew Tulloch and even the RSPCA man. He has thrown his bit in, they have all worked hard and it is onwards and upwards now for the Grand National.”
The win completed a rapid return on investment for Auroras Encore’s owners Douglas Pryde, Jim Beaumont and David Van Der Hoeven.
Bred by Mountarmstrong Stud in Ireland, Auroras Encore (foaled March 10, 2002) is by Grand Criterium winner Second Empire out of a Rainbow Quest mare who ran on the Flat for Sheikh Mohammed.
They bought the horse at Christmas, but kept him in training with Yorkshire-based Sue Smith. Pryde said: “In all my time in horse racing I’ve always wanted to bring a horse to the Grand National, and it’s just very nice to win it.
“The plan to run him here was made when we bought him. His form when second in last year’s Scottish National was in our mind and we have just been waiting for this better ground,” Pryde said.
Pryde is an independent financial advisor who has had several horses in training over the years – primarily with David Barron on the Flat and Lucinda Russell over jumps – but Auroras Encore is the first he has had trained by Sue Smith.
Winning jockey Ryan Mania quit racing for six months in the winter of 2011, but came back and landed the world’s most famous steeplechase.
“It’s unbelievable – people keep telling me to look happy and I am, but I just cannot believe it’s happened. It’s a dream and you cannot explain what it’s like,” Mania said.
“I was happy with my early position and he jumped really well over the early fences, with just the odd mistake here and there. He was on his head a bit, but he learned from those mistakes and learned to back off the fences a bit. He was always travelling so well.
“I got a blow into him after Becher’s, and having ridden here in November I remembered that I probably kicked on a bit soon then and realised you have to give them a chance to get their breath.
“I was sixth or seventh and had a bit of daylight and a clear run – I was very lucky and that’s what you need in the National.
“My only ambition was to get round, although I knew he stayed the trip. He hasn’t been himself all season and has needed this better ground and sun on his back. He’s not had the sunshine, but he got the better ground and he’s class on his day.
“Coming to the second-last I was delighted because I realised I was going to be placed, and I thought ‘this is great, let’s just jump home’, then the front two [Teaforthree and Oscar Time] stopped in front of me at the last and I said to myself ‘this isn’t happening’. So I got down and gave him a shove and he quickened on past them.
“I heard the commentator say there was a loose horse behind me but I didn’t dare look round and just kept going.”
Mania, a former point-to-point rider from Galashiels in the Scottish Borders became the first Scottish-born winning rider of the Grand National since 1896, when Mr David Campbell (later General Sir David Campbell) won on The Soarer.
Reflecting on his decision to leave racing, albeit briefly, he said: “It was a hard decision but I was unsure what to do and wanted to clear my head and figure out my next move. It was a sabbatical and I thought I’d take a whole year out, but I missed racing after six months.”
He explained: “Sue and Harvey have been unbelievable – I couldn’t have come back without them. The opportunities for jockeys up north are very limited and I am lucky to have such a good yard behind me.”