Racing has a welcome habit of bringing unlikely people together, but no single contest seems to bring owners with all pocket sizes together in search of success than the most famous jumps race in the world.
With an estimated wealth of £850 million, Trevor Hemmings could afford to build his own racecourse if he wanted to, and certainly all 40 of the horses lining up in this year’s race. Irish billionaire JP McManus is said to be worth at least twice as much.
But despite having already won the race before as owners, both men will this year take their place with their families and friends in the parade ring before the Randox Health Grand National, the millions of pounds they have invested in the sport boiling down to holding the same lottery ticket as everyone else wearing an owner’s badge.
Last year it was the ‘The Golf Widows’, Belinda McClung and Debs Thompson, who found themselves as the headline story on the evening news when the horse they own jointly, One For Arthur, landed the race under Derek Fox.
To celebrate #BurnsNight2018 and everything Scottish
Here’s ONE FOR ARTHUR winning the Grand National for Scotland 🏴pic.twitter.com/ujcLmKBfqo
— Great British Racing (@GBRacing) January 25, 2018
Having gone to school together and remained friends when younger, their lives drifted apart until finding a common interest later in life when going racing together around Scotland and the Borders. But having named their syndicate as a gentle dig at the expense of their golf‐loving partners, suddenly everyone wanted to know the story.
“We were at Kelso one day and having drunk quite a lot of gin, we decided to get a horse together,” McClung explained. “Racing is a social thing for us. ‘Arthur’ wasn’t the first horse either of us had owned, but at £60,000 he wasn’t cheap and we knew it was a serious investment. He is obviously a very special horse to us and he always will be.”
Last year in the Grand National, One For Arthur claimed the win for Scotland!@chamberlinsport has been speaking to the joint-owners Belinda McClung, Deborah Thomson and trainer Lucinda Russell about that day and more. pic.twitter.com/dLDpTzqmEg
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) April 7, 2018
Injury prevents One For Arthur from defending his title this year, although that won’t stop his owners from enjoying the anniversary of his finest hour (so far). But in their place are a host of others hoping that their dreams will be fulfilled.
Irishman Lar Byrne has already enjoyed great days as a racehorse owner but returns with a syndicate of friends and family in search of Grand National success with Total Recall. Byrne saw his own colours carried to big‐race success, including two Champion Hurdles, by the hugely‐popular Hardy Eustace.
Total Recall represents the Slaneyville Syndicate, which Byrne set up subsequently in partnership with his eight siblings.
Byrne explained: “My family got a great kick out of following Hardy Eustace and all backed him on various occasions. I’m the youngster of the crew and we all said we’d put some money together and start off the Slaneyville Syndicate, which is named after the original family home in Tullow.”
Sadly, Byrne’s sister Catherine, a devoted supporter of the family’s horses, died in January, but the remainder of the team will be at Aintree to lend their support.
“We’re all going over, along with other halves and kids,” Byrne said. “I’ve also been told my nephew is having his stag party in Liverpool that weekend so we’ll be trying to give him a wide berth!”
Another syndicate chasing success is The Three Graces, named after the Three Graces of the Liverpool skyline ‐ the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. The owners are Merseyside‐based friends Peter Thwaites and Peter Le Gros, who met through their work in the construction industry.
Their horse Gas Line Boy finished fifth in the race last year, collecting £26,500 in prize money, and paying the entry fee for another attempt at the contest.
Born and brought up a dozen or so miles from the track in Halewood, Le Gros has loved horse racing since he was a small boy and has been an owner since the 1980s, starting out in a syndicate with “about a million other people” before graduating on to having his own horses.
“For me, the Grand National is the biggest race in the world,” he said. “There are thousands of horses in training, but only 40 make it to the National, so to get there is an achievement. Then of those 40, around 30 will probably meet some bad luck on the way round, so you’ve got to be lucky again. But hopefully we’ve got a chance.”
Also returning for another assault upon the £1million prize pot in the National are co‐owners Jim Beaumont and Douglas Pryde, who also won the race in 2013 with the Sue Smith‐trained Auroras Encore.
They team up with Maggio, trained in Ireland by James Griffin, and still only relatively lightly‐raced despite being the joint‐oldest in the field at 13.
Ownership does funny things to otherwise‐rational people and, like so many, the Grand National has simply got under the skin of Beaumont and Pryde in a way they might never have imagined possible.
“I started going to Aintree when I was three years old and the racecourse is a huge part of my life,” said Beaumont, once a bell‐boy at the famous Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool.
“You can’t describe how it feels to win the Grand National. You get complete strangers coming up to you and throwing their arms around you. Every taxi I got in it was all the driver wanted to talk about. It was a fantastic day.
“Why wouldn’t anybody want to experience that all over again?”