Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sue Smith: National Treasure

Not to be confused with Suzy Smith, who trains in Lewes, East Sussex, Sue Smith is married to former showjumper Harvey Smith and is based at Bingley, West Yorkshire. Harvey Smith already owned Craiglands Farm at High Eldwick when Sue, originally from Sussex, moved north to join him in 1990. She once said of her training base, “It’s not the poshest place on earth, but they are warm, well-fed and happy horses.” 

Sue originally trained horses under permit, as a hobby, but saddled her first winner, African Safari, in the Hurst Park Novices’ Chase at Ascot in November 1990. Coincidentally, one of his two rivals that day was Amrullah, who ran in 74 races without ever winning one and was dismissed by Timeform as “thoroughly irresolute”; more on him another day. Sue took out a full training licence in 1991 and, since then, has established herself as one of the leading trainers in the north of England.
Her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Mister McGoldrick, who won the Racing Post Plate in 2008 by 13 lengths, unchallenged, at 66/1. However, it was another 66/1 chance, Auroras Encore, who was to provide here with the biggest success of her career when he won the 2013 Grand National. Ridden by Ryan Mania, who was having his first ride in the race, the 11-year-old lead over the last fence and was driven out to beat Cappa Bleu by 9 lengths. In so doing, he made Sue Smith just the third female in history – after Jenny Pitman and Venetia Williams – to train a Grand National winner.

Victory in the world famous race was in contrast to some earlier disappointments or, indeed, tragedies for the yard. Two decades earlier, in 1993, Kildimo had been well fancied for the “Grand National That Never Was”, in 2002, The Last Fling fell, fatally, at the Canal Turn on the second circuit and, in 2003, Goeguenard also lost his life after blundering badly at the open ditch.

Auroras Encore was pulled up on his attempt at a famous double in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr, just two weeks after his Aintree victory. He reappeared the following Boxing Day, but finished well beaten in the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby and, a month later, sustained a career-ending injury when finishing down the field in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster. He was found to have fractured his third metacarpal, or cannon bone but, having had screws inserted to support the bone, made a full recovery. Sue Smith said, philosophically, “These things happen. I just want him home to have a happy retirement.

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