For the Jump racing fraternity, the Grand National remains the Holy Grail. Jockeys, trainers and owners alike, all dream of success in the World’s greatest steeplechase, and for those fortunate enough to reach the mountain top, the view is something to behold.
In April 2013 Mrs and Mr Smith caused one of the great upsets when training Auroras Encore to win the Aintree showpiece in quite stunning fashion. On closer inspection the horse should never have gone off at 66/1 having almost won the Scottish National a year earlier. But few spotted the vital piece of form, leaving the wife and husband combination the luxury of a peaceful preparation as the greatest day of their sporting careers loomed.
That’s pretty much how they like it, especially the cantankerous half of the double act. The straight talking Yorkshireman had his time in the spotlight and welcomes the opportunity of ‘just getting on with it’ without all the fuss and intrusion. It may be Sue Smith’s name that appears on the licence, but this is a successful ‘team’ in every sense of the word.
Show-jumping brought the pair together, with Harvey in particular excelling in a career that brought a World Championship title and appearances at the Olympics of Mexico and Munich. Decades of experience are brought to bear, with Harvey having a keen eye for spotting talented youngsters. From then on it’s a pretty even split of responsibilities and labour.
Sue Smith has now been training for almost 30 years at Craiglands Farm, Harvey’s home for more than 50 years. Just north of Bradford on rugged moorland above Bingley the set-up is just as you would imagine. State of the art, it is not, but a farm converted to a thriving horse racing establishment. Graft and an exceptional knowledge of the horse, is what enables the Smith’s to maintain their level of success in an ever demanding sport.
In an interview with The Telegraph in 2014 Harvey spoke of the secret to their success, when he said: “We just buy a nice young ’un and bring him on. We don’t have to go and pay millions for the horses like all these southern lot are doing.” The statement sums up both the approach and the reality of competing with the powerhouses of the south; the likes of Nicholls and Henderson.
Nevertheless, the winners keep coming, and this season in particular has seen a return to form for the Yorkshire team. Recent weeks have brought a glut of winners including the terrific success for the yard’s young chaser Wakanda in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. Still only a six-year-old, the horse is now four from four over fences when jockey Danny Cook is on his back. It’s a partnership that is thriving, and with favourable testing conditions the horse looks set to win more high-profile staying chases.
Along with Wakanda, Smith will remain hopeful that Blakemount can reach his full potential. Terrific over hurdles, he was injured before his chasing career had hardly begun. His return this winter has so far proven a little underwhelming, though his last run at Carlisle was on unsuitably heavy ground. If he can be kept fit and well, he has the talent to become a success, especially in less testing conditions.
Cloudy Too is another with far more talent than he is currently displaying on a raceday. Some way behind Wakanda at Newcastle, his handicap is gradually coming back to a workable mark, and coupled with a step back in trip he could well be an interesting proposition in the coming months.
At the weekend No Planning appeared to struggle with the Aintree fences when coming down at the Chair in the Becher Chase. He was a well-fancied second favourite for the race, and back on a more forgiving track the eight-year-old looks sure to get his head back in front. His record over fences remains a strong one, and he’s another that now appears to have a tasty looking handicap mark.
They may have been in the game longer than most would care to mention, but Mrs and Mr Smith remain as passionate about horses as ever. Continued hard graft along with a large slice of expertise look set to ensure continued success for a good while longer yet.