Auroras Encore’s stunning 66/1 success in the 2013 Grand National worth £975,000 provided trainer Sue Smith with the biggest success of her training career.
The West Yorkshire handler became only the third woman to train a winner of the world-famous race, emulating Venetia Williams, who sent out 100/1 outsider Mon Mome in 2009, and Jenny Pitman, victorious with Corbiere and Royal Athlete in 1983 and 1995 respectively.
“It’s great to be a Grand National-winning trainer,” said Smith, speaking in January, 2014.
“It was fantastic day for our team and, when you start training racehorses, you strive to win a Grand National or a Gold Cup, so to win the Grand National was superb.” Although many of the 600 million people who tuned in worldwide to watch the spectacle were surprised by the result, Smith was not.
“Going into the race, we knew Auroras Encore would stay the trip,” recalled Smith. “We needed the ground to come right for us and fortunately, with all the cold weather in the build-up, it did stay dry and we got our ground.
“We also had to hope for luck in running and were quite confident that, if things came in our favour, he was capable of running a very big race.
“It was a big team effort to get him and Mr Moonshine to Aintree because about a month before the Grand National it snowed quite hard all over the country. We are very high up here (near Bingley in West Yorkshire), so we catch the wind and the frost, which was really quite severe right up until the race.
“We were fortunate enough to have a racecourse gallop at Wetherby – our local course was very helpful – and then I took them both to Malton to school over the Grand National fences there, which all went very well.
“We were then able to give them a very good piece of work when the frost relented the week of the race and everything turned out really well.
“It’s quite possible that those away days helped both horses because they went into the race in excellent order.
“Mr Moonshine ran a really good race, but I feel he doesn’t quite get the Grand National trip. He ran well for a long, long way and jumped very well before being pulled up. He has since proved he is very capable over the National fences because he ran very well in the Becher Chase (in December, 2013) to finish third.
“The old horse (Auroras Encore) really does love it around there and I was quite confident from about four-out because he was travelling better than anything else. The horse was just full of himself that day and from that point it was just a matter of jumping.
“Ryan (Mania) gave the horse a lovely ride. He was full of confidence going out and he knew exactly what he was going to do. As I’ve said, all the boxes were ticked and it was an absolutely fantastic day.”
Smith, born on 23 February, 1948, has established herself as one of the leading trainers in the north of England. Born and raised in Sussex, she moved north to her husband Harvey’s Craiglands Farm on the Yorkshire Moors at High Eldwick near Bingley and 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 at Kempton Park in 1972 and her late father owned horses with Epsom trainer Arthur Pitt, her passion was for showjumping. She competed at international level and met Harvey at Hickstead.
Her best season came in 2002/03 when she sent out 74 winners at a strike-rate of 21 per cent and her first Cheltenham Festival success was provided by another 66/1 shot, Mister McGoldrick, who took what is now the Bryne Group Plate in equally impressive fashion in 2008. She has enjoyed a very good start to the 2013/14 season.
Harvey Smith, born on 29 December, 1938, scaled the heights over four decades in his career as a showjumper and he was understandably thrilled to have been involved in winning jump racing’s most valuable prize.
He commented after last year’s victory: “We’ve always fancied Auroras Encore because he is a lovely horse. He was only beaten a whisker in the Scottish National and had been given a lovely weight here.
“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.
“You don’t win a big one every day. We bought Auroras Encore out of Doncaster Sales (for £9,500), broke him and made him. That’s what we did. We’re over the moon.”
Sue Smith was the first Yorkshire trainer to succeed in the Grand National since Neville Crump sent out Merryman II in 1960. She had been hoping to saddle Auroras Encore in the 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National when he would have tried to become the first dual winner since Red Rum in 1974.
However, on the second of his outings this season, the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on 25 January, the 12-year-old horse ran well for a long before dropping back to finish ninth. He was found to be lame after the race and had incurred a leg injury which required an operation on Tuesday, 28 January to pin together a fracture of his fetlock joint of his off-fore leg.
It was a successful operation, with Auroras Encore back in his box at Craiglands Farm on Sunday, 2 February after two pins were inserted in the leg.
The trainer said: “Auroras Encore has had all his bandages and everything taken off. He has been with our own vet, down at Haworth vets in Keighley. They have done an exceptionally good job.
“It is only two miles down the road from us, which was a great bonus dealing with the horse quickly before he had his operation. All is well with the horse.
“He won a Grand National for us and it doesn’t get bigger than that. He doesn’t owe us anything. This is a racing injury and I’m afraid that it is what you have to expect from the job occasionally.
“I am looking forward to him having a happy retirement. He has got to stand about for a month and then he can have light exercise. He is a pretty sensible horse and seems to have come through everything well.”