Auroras Encore’s victory in 2013 saw a carefully laid plan come to fruition in spectacular style for Scottish-based businessmen Douglas Pryde (pictured second left), Jim Beaumont (pictured left) and David van der Hoeven, who bought the chaser with the specific aim of running him in the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree.
While the 66/1 success proved to be particularly popular north of the border, aided by the first Scottish-born rider, Ryan Mania, to succeed since 1896, there was also an element of a ‘home success’ for Liverpool as both Beaumont and Pryde have a strong affinity with the city.
Beaumont was born in Liverpool, growing up in Garston and Speke, and the retired restaurant owner went to the Grand National every year as a child. He worked as a bell-boy at the Adelphi Hotel aged 14 and saw Sheila’s Cottage being paraded on the steps of the famous hotel following her victory in the great race in 1948.
After completing his National Service at the age of 20, Beaumont moved from Liverpool and progressed to manage hotels in Edinburgh and Monte Carlo before returning to the Scottish capital, where he still lives, to run his own chain of restaurants, which was 12-strong at one point.
Pryde, born and bred in Musselburgh, East Lothian, spent five years living in Liverpool between 1978 and 1983 and has been to virtually every Grand National meeting since 1987. The independent financial advisor, who runs his own company in Duns in the Scottish Borders, is a proud Scot and represented his country at football in his youth.
“I played for Scotland as a schoolboy against England and I had quite a number of clubs interested in me at one point,” revealed Pryde, who started owning racehorses in the early 1990s with Northumberland handler Ridley Lamb.
“I had trials with Hull City and Dundee, while Hearts and Stirling were interested at one point. After I left school, I played semi-professionally in Scotland until I was 24 for a couple of teams including Livingstone.”
Pryde retains links from the past with Liverpool and it was through going to the Grand National virtually every year that he linked up with another of the trio who own Aurora’s Encore.
He explained: “I worked for some insurance companies and moved around to Glasgow and Liverpool.
“I spent five years working in Liverpool – I lived in Nicholas Road in Blundellsands – and I am still a member of Formby Golf Club. I played golf there on the Wednesday before the 2013 Grand National and I will probably do the same thing again this year.
“I think that the first Grand National I went to was in 1982, when Grittar won for Frank Gilman. I have been to nearly all of the Nationals over the last 25 years or so and I still have a lot of friends in Liverpool.
“I actually first met Jim at Aintree. Racegoers tend to be creatures of habit and stand in the same parts of the course. I have always stood on the County Stand roof for the Grand National. I have been there when it’s been very, very busy, while I remember for the four finishers in 2001 there were only 10 of us up there because the weather was so bad.
“Every year I would look across and think ‘I know that man’ because I had seen him a lot at Musselburgh Racecourse. Jim has done wonderfully well for Musselburgh over the years, being on the race committee there.
“So we met and said that we must have a horse together at some point. We had a common interest in Aintree and we wanted to buy a National type of horse. The first one we had was Santa’s Son (trained by Howard Johnson), who was up with Ballabriggs (the winner) for much of the race in 2011 before being pulled up four fences out.
“We wanted to have another crack at Aintree after that and that’s why we were interested in getting another staying chaser. I generally like to look for something that is proven over jumps and I have had some nice horses over the years – Incas and Broadgate Flyer were both good staying chasers.
“The whole thing really took off in late 2012. I did a little bit of research and noticed that Sue and Harvey Smith owned a lot of their horses and many of them fitted into the mould of a seasoned staying chasers.
“Sue came to speak to Jim at Kelso one day, saying that she had Auroras Encore and the owners wanted to retire from racing so we bought the horse (just before Christmas in 2012) and another Grand National horse, Mr Moonshine, as well.”
Auroras Encore had gone down by a head in the 2012 Scottish Grand National, but the chaser failed to show his form on his first three starts for his new owners and he headed to Aintree on the back of a distant fifth in a Kelso handicap chase. But the confidence of connections began to grow as the 11-year-old sparkled in his work in the days leading up to Aintree.
“We were a bit insulted by Auroras Encore’s odds for the National, so we had a bit on him beforehand,” Pryde continued. “The ground was terrible for most of last winter and he wasn’t in particularly good form but, around two weeks before Aintree, Harvey said that the horse was really enjoying the spring.
“The Tuesday before the Grand National, he did a fantastic gallop and Sue and Harvey told me that we were going to Aintree with some chance.”
Watching the race unfold proved an exhilarating experience for Pryde as Auroras Encore, just like Santa’s Son two years earlier, raced prominently for much of the contest. While their other runner, Mr Moonshine, was pulled up before the 27th fence, Auroras Encore still appeared to cruising behind Oscar Time, Teaforthree and Across The Bay as the field crossed the Melling Road for the final time.
“Auroras Encore hit the fourth fence from home which took him back a length or two but I thought that, if he jumped that last three, we would be placed.
“When he came to last, I thought that he would win because he was coasting at that point and he ended up winning decisively. Ryan gave him a superb ride. He is a young man going places and I think that he is very important to Sue and Harvey’s team.”
While Pryde and Beaumont found themselves the centre of attention in the winner’s enclosure, financial planner van der Hoeven, who was born in South Africa and lives in Edinburgh, missed Auroras Encore’s victory as he was enjoying a holiday with his family.
“David has a large family and he was on holiday at his place in Cyprus during last year’s Grand National,” explained Pryde. “He is very much involved with the ownership – he was delighted to have won last year and he will be there this time.”
Last year’s Grand National saw several changes, including moving the start forward by 90 yards – making the distance run four miles, three and a half furlongs – and the addition of plastic birch frames to the majority of the fences.
“I am in favour of the Grand National as it now,” Pryde added. “You need to have good public relations in this day and age and clearly the course benefited from a positive reaction last year.
“I think that it is still a very stiff race – the fences still need to be jumped – but I think that shortening the run to the first fence is the most important change in recent times. There have been problems over the years with false starts, so I think that moving the start was a good tactic to employ.”
Auroras Encore had to retire at the end of January because of a leg injury, but Mr Moonshine could return to Aintree, either for another Crabbie’s Grand National attempt or to take part in the £120,000 Crabbie’s Topham Chase on Ladies’ Day, Friday, 4 April over the shorter trip of two miles, five and a half furlongs.
Pryde said: “Mr Moonshine would probably be suited by the Topham Chase. He had a couple of years when life was difficult for him after such a good novice campaign (2011/12) but he won well at Musselburgh at the start of January (won the 2014 totepool.com Scottish Premier Chase over two and a half miles) and he likes running over the National fences (third in the 2013 Betfred Becher Chase in December). He ran well in the Grand National last year but maybe he is more of a Topham-type of horse.”
Before the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival, Pryde is hoping that talented Flat performer Tres Coronas, trained by David Barron, can provide him with another major success in the Lincoln at Doncaster on 29 March. The heritage handicap is the first leg of the traditional “Spring Double” which concludes with the Grand National itself.
“I still enjoy having horses on the Flat. I lived opposite Musselburgh Racecourse and I used to go across and watch the Flat racing – there were no jumps in those days. I am hoping that Tres Coronas can run in the Lincoln and we can dream about doing the spring double”
But whatever lays ahead, the thrill of owning a Grand National winner will always remain with Pryde and his co-owners.
“It has been a great year for all of us. I have been invited to so many events and so many people have spoken to us. A lot of people in Scotland were very pleased not only that Ryan and ourselves were victorious, but they were also really pleased for Sue and Harvey. I think it has gone down quite well!”
Beaumont was a member of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee for more than 10 years and acted as a liaison officer and ambassador for the Scottish racecourse, but his roots are in Liverpool.
He recalled: “As kids we used to come and roll down the grass banks (in the Steeplechase Enclosure at Aintree) but I never thought of owning the winning horse, I never even thought I’d own a horse!”
“I used to meet Douglas here at Aintree about 25 years ago and we used to say hi. Then about 16 years ago we decided to get a horse together. We had horses with Lucinda Russell and a nice one with Howard Johnson. We went to buy Mr Moonshine after I saw him at Carlisle. But Harvey was talking telephone numbers.
“So we went home and a few weeks later I met Sue at Kelso. I hadn’t met her before and I said it was me who wanted to buy Mr Moonshine. And she said I’m glad you got in touch with me, there is a horse that has come up that will be in your range. He is two years older. The owners had decided to retire and right on the spot we bought the horse, Auroras Encore, on her say-so. And we also bought Mr Moonshine as well. They are great people.”
Beaumont has been in great demand since the Grand National win at Aintree on 6 April, 2013, attending award ceremonies, charity events and opening flower shows.
He summed up the Grand National experience: “The race was a superb spectacle and it just reinforces why the Grand National is seen by many as the world’s greatest horse race, in which the smaller racehorse owner can triumph against the odds.”