Donald McCain leads tributes to Trevor Hemmings

Donald McCain has led the tributes to three-times Grand National-winning owner Trevor Hemmings who died on Monday evening at the age of 86.

McCain trained Ballabriggs to provide Hemmings with a second Aintree success in 2011 following on from Hedgehunter (2005) and added to by Many Clouds (2015).

Having also had horses with his father, Red Rum’s trainer Ginger, McCain explained while also losing a huge supporter, his family were mourning the loss of a friend.

“It was a huge shock. He’d been in touch fairly recently and he even used to ring my mum now and again just to keep an eye on her,” said McCain.

“Obviously he was fantastic to me. Dad trained for him in his latter years but for me as a first-season trainer to have horses for Trevor Hemmings was a huge thing and he supported me every year through thick and thin for every year that I’ve been training.

“He’s been a wonderful man for me and a lot of other trainers. He was very fair and while it’s corny, he was just a gentleman. He was a wonderful supporter to me, you can’t underestimate the reason why he was so successful and that is because he allowed you to train horses the way they should be trained.

“He was not just a great man but he was a great friend to the family as well.

“Cloudy Lane was the first good horse I had for him and Mr Hemmings bred him as well, we had some great fun with him even before Ballabriggs came along, he won at the (Cheltenham) Festival and was favourite for the National the following year (finished sixth).

“It was no fluke that he won three Grand Nationals, he allowed you to do the job, he never rushed you.

“He’s a great loss to National Hunt racing but in particular the northern National Hunt racing scene, that can’t be underestimated as he was a great supporter of many trainers in the north.”

Trevor Hemmings celebrates the victory of Many Clouds in the Grand National
Trevor Hemmings celebrates the victory of Many Clouds in the Grand National (Mike Egerton/PA)

Oliver Sherwood described Hemmings as the “perfect owner”.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “It was a real shock to get a text from David Minton (bloodstock agent) last night. He’d been in really good form recently, he hadn’t been in any ill health, so it was a huge shock.

“We had some great days with Many Clouds and I’ll be forever in their debt. Without Trevor’s input I wouldn’t have even run him in the National because I thought it was a year too soon.

“After his slightly disappointing run in the Gold Cup, Trevor said we had nothing to lose and the rest is history.”

Reflecting on that National success, Sherwood added: “I won’t forget that weekend for as long as I live. Trevor flew down the next day in his helicopter and celebrated with all the locals in Lambourn and paid for everybody to have a drink.

“It was a huge turnout in the centre of Lambourn, which will stick in my mind forever. We’ve still got a huge picture in our yard now of ‘Clouds’ in the square in Lambourn. They were very special days.

“Many Clouds was one of many good horses Trevor owned. I think he had a soft spot for all his National winners.

“Trevor would be the first to say he was a very lucky man to have the horses he did, but then he enjoyed the highs and knew the lows that came with owning racehorses. He knew the game inside out as well, which is very important.

“He was the perfect owner. He let us get on with it and knew we knew the horses better than anybody.”

Hedgehunter with jockey Ruby Walsh winning the Grand National
Hedgehunter with jockey Ruby Walsh winning the Grand National (David Davies/PA)

Hedgehunter provided Willie Mullins with his first and only victory to date in the National 16 years ago under Ruby Walsh.

Mullins said: “We had a great day with Trevor Hemmings and Hedgehunter.

“It was a dream come true to win the National – it gave us one of the great days in my training career.

“He (Hemmings) was a man who it was an honour and a pleasure to train for.”

Former champion jockey Richard Johnson, who rode many winners in the Hemmings silks, said: “I was very, very lucky, Trevor was a big supporter of Philip’s (Hobbs) and Henry Daly’s.

“I rode a lot of winners for him over a long period of time, he was always a great character.

“He was self-made, he’d done everything and I think he loved all sport, he loved racing and he understood the good and the bad.

“He always loved the Grand National and he bought those lovely big chasers that he knew took a lot of time, he used to joke ‘I’ve had him forever, one day we might win a race’ – a character like that, you’re really going to miss him.

“It (racing) was his enjoyment, his hobby, he just loved to be a part of it and when he was at Haydock or Uttoxeter or Cheltenham, he was telling jokes rather than worrying about what going to happen in 10 minute’s time.

“It was very sad to hear the news that he’s passed away.”

Sherwood confident Sevarano can sparkle in Reynoldstown

Oliver Sherwood is optimistic about the chances of Sevarano in the Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

With ante-post principals The Big Breakaway and If The Cap Fits notable defectors at Thursday’s declaration stage, Sherwood believes his representative has a “favourite’s chance” of landing Saturday’s Grade Two contest.

“I’m guessing one or two maybe didn’t want to run and leave their Cheltenham behind, whereas our horse isn’t even entered at Cheltenham and purposely wasn’t going to go there,” said the Lambourn-based trainer.

A talented hurdler last season, Sevarano looks likely to scale even greater heights over fences, having won two of his first three starts this season.

He could finish only fourth on his latest appearance at Newbury in December, but Sherwood has a valid excuse.

He added: “It was unfortunate what happened at Newbury. He slipped into the first fence, and it unnerved him, but he schooled super on Thursday morning and is in a really good place.

“This is the time to step up in trip – I’ve been dying to do it – and he handled this sort of ground over hurdles last year. He’s a big, strong boy now as an eight-year-old – and I’m sure he’ll handle it.

“I’m very happy with him, and he doesn’t get a penalty for his two wins this season because they were handicaps.

“I think he’s going there with a favourite’s chance.”

A six-strong field is headed by the Fergal O’Brien-trained Hurricane Harvey, who must shoulder a 5lb penalty for winning the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster last time out.

“He’s having to carry a penalty, which isn’t ideal, but there aren’t many options for him,” said O’Brien.

“There was a novice handicap at Doncaster next week, but again he’d be giving weight away.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It was great to win a Grade Two with him, but it makes the rest of the season tougher. Having said that, you’d take a Grade Two every time.

“It’s a rich man’s problem, as they say.”

David Pipe’s Remastered faces a step up in class after winning his first two starts over fences at Carlisle and Wetherby.

Trainer David Pipe saddles Remastered on the Reynoldstown
Trainer David Pipe saddles Remastered on the Reynoldstown (David Davies/PA)

Pipe said: “He’s got a bit to find on official ratings, but he likes soft ground, three miles around Ascot will be ideal – and he jumps well.

“It was a decent enough race that he won first time over fences at Carlisle, and then it was just a two-horse race he won at Wetherby, but he deserves to take his chance and has conditions to suit.”

Full Back is in a similar boat after winning at Plumpton and Exeter for Gary Moore, who said: “Hopefully he goes very well. He wouldn’t want too much more rain, he just doesn’t like it too heavy. I know he won in heavier ground, but he’s got away with it a bit.

“He’s in a good place, and this has always been the target, so hopefully he can give a good account of himself.”

Demachine (Kerry Lee) and Kalooki (Philip Hobbs) complete the line-up.

‘Extraordinary’ Spirit could chart direct route to Midlands National

Seaston Spirit could head straight for the Midlands Grand National following his victory at Plumpton on Sunday.

Reverting to the larger obstacles after a 21-length success over hurdles at Ffos Las in November, Oliver Sherwood’s charge produced a career-best performance to land the Sussex National and claim a fifth win from his last six starts.

“I’m well happy with him. He’s a tough horse – he’s extraordinary,” said the Lambourn handler.

“Leighton Aspell (retired jockey) actually sent me a message of congratulations after the race and reminded me that he’d won on the horse just over a year ago off a mark of 98. He’s now won a Sussex National off 125.

“He was entered at the sales not long after Leighton won on him, so he was literally in the last-chance saloon. He obviously heard about it as he’s taken off since!

“He can still make the odd mistake, but we expect that and he’s going the right way, obviously.”

Sherwood hopes there is more to come from his charge, who may not run again before bidding for big-race honours at Uttoxeter on March 20.

He added: “The Midlands National would be the ideal race for him. I don’t know what he’ll go up for winning at Plumpton, but I think it should get him in off a low weight at Uttoxeter.

“I’m not entirely convinced he’s ready for Newbury or Sandown or somewhere like that.

“I’m going to have no choice but to go for those kind of races because of his mark. Whether he’ll go to Uttoxeter without a run, I don’t know, but my feeling is he probably will.”

Seaston Spirit claims Sussex National glory

Seaston Spirit showed an abundance of stamina to maintain his unbeaten record this season in the Sky Sports Racing Sussex National Handicap Chase at Plumpton.

After winning three of his final four starts of the last campaign, the Oliver Sherwood-trained eight-year-old followed up his facile success over hurdles on his return at Ffos Las in November with victory in the extended three-and-a-half-mile prize.

Working his way steadily into contention the 6-1 shot moved into a lead he would hold all the way to the line under Aidan Coleman jumping the fourth-last.

Despite coming under pressure from favourite Special Acceptance on the run down to the final fence, Seaston Spirit continued to find plenty in front before prevailing by two lengths to give Coleman his 1,100th British winner.

Coleman said: “He was very tough, as the first mile and a half I couldn’t let up at all as I wanted to be handier but they went quite quick early.

“I was niggling him a lot, but to be fair once there was any slowing of the pace he was bang there. I know he has got blinkers on, but that is a good example of sharpening a horse up.

“It is a great training performance by Oliver to get him to win a good pot at Taunton last year and then bring him back over hurdles and bring him back here.

“The last time I rode him I think I had 10st so I had to miss a couple of meals – it was nice to have a bit more weight today. That’s a good prize today so we are delighted.”

Assessing future plans Coleman believes Seaston Spirit could be the ideal type to take aim at the Midlands National at Uttoxeter.

He added: “I do think one of those tracks would suit him better than here. At the same time though his last two big wins have been around Taunton and Plumpton which are tight tracks.

“I do think he deserves to have a go at a race like the one at Uttoxeter or something like that.”

Dominateur out to deliver Sherwood’s first Welsh National

Oliver Sherwood is hoping Dominateur can give him a first success in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

Dominateur is a dual winner over a near three-mile trip at the Monmouthshire venue in testing conditions, including on this card 12 months ago.

The seven-year-old did could manage only a distant seventh in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March just before the lockdown, and returned to the track in a Listed contest at Sandown just seven weeks ago.

But his Upper Lambourn trainer – who famously landed the Grand National at Aintree in 2015 with Many Clouds – was pleased with that comeback run and has been delighted with Dominateur’s preparation for the prestigious long-distance handicap chase, for which 18 have been declared on Sunday.

“I’m very happy with him. This has been the plan with him since he won on that day last year,” said Sherwood.

With Aintree glory already on his CV, Oliver Sherwood is hoping add Welsh National glory to his laurels
With Aintree glory already on his CV, Oliver Sherwood is hoping add Welsh National glory to his laurels (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He’s got a good record around there. He loves the softer ground. It’s a big ask for a second-season novice to go over three-mile-six, but I think I’m going to win a Welsh National one day.

“We missed an engagement at Chepstow, the trial meeting, only because we couldn’t get a jockey. It was nothing to do with the horse.

“He’s had an away-day. I was happy enough with his first run back against better opposition. He made a couple of mistakes, but he’s had a session schooling at Laura Collett’s. I’ve just been happy with him, and he’s all set to go.”

Secret Reprieve has been top of the ante-post market since winning the official trial for the race in convincing fashion three weeks ago.

The six-year-old may be short on experience, but trainer Evan Williams believes he has plenty going for him.

“It’s a big ask, but we’re at the right end of the weights, and sometimes you’ve got to give these things a go when you are relatively unexposed,” said Williams, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“I think course form is probably the most important thing as far as the Welsh National is concerned, and he’s won his maiden hurdle around Chepstow and won over fences a few weeks ago round there.

“We think the track suits him, and that’s very important – the biggest plus you can get because the track doesn’t suit them all. I do think it’s a track that suits certain horses, very much that type of track.

“As far as the distance is concerned, I don’t know if he’ll stay. I’d be guessing – I’ve no evidence he’ll stay, so we’ll roll the dice and fingers crossed. (But) he wouldn’t be in the race if I didn’t think he’d stay.

“It is a gamble, going into the race with so little experience. But we like him, and it’s only once in his life he’s going to get into this race off this weight.”

Of his other runner, Prime Venture, the Llancarfan handler said: “You’d have to say this horse goes into the race in better form really (than last year).”

Tom Symonds was pleased with Bobo Mac’s third behind Secret Reprieve in the trial, and reports the nine-year-old to be in rude health for the main event.

Tom Symonds has Welsh National claims with Bobo Mac
Tom Symonds has Welsh National claims with Bobo Mac (David Davies/PA)

“I was delighted with his prep run. He was really good. He had a good feel for the track, which was the point of it as a trial, so we were happy with that,” said the Ross-on-Wye handler.

“He’s a horse that has taken a bit of getting to know in terms of chasing. But we’re getting there slowly, and clear rounds make a difference, so we’re really thrilled with him.

“As long as he switches off as he has been doing, I don’t think the trip will be a problem. It’s all about keeping him in a rhythm.

“We’re very happy with him, and he will wear cheekpieces – which he has worn before.”

Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki were second and third respectively last year for Paul Nicholls, and are back for more.

“They’re both in great shape,” he said.

“Truckers Lodge went up to Kelso and unseated Lorcan (Williams), which was a bit unfortunate. He’s had an away-day as well.

Truckers Lodge (green) and Yala Enki (yellow) in action behind Potters Corner last year
Truckers Lodge (green) and Yala Enki (yellow) in action behind Potters Corner last year (David Davies/PA)

“With Lorcan’s 3lb claim, he’s going to carry 11st 5lb, which is a bit more than last year – but it was only his fourth run over fences, and he’s improved enormously. He’s in great shape and will love the ground.

“Yala Enki has got to carry 11st 12lb, but the distance and the ground suits him.

“He carried 11st 12lb at Cheltenham earlier in the season and got beaten a short head in a really good race. He only got as far as the first in the Becher Chase at Aintree – but in a lot of ways that was a bonus, because it meant he didn’t have a hard race.

“I’m looking forward to running both horses.”

Christmas In April was pulled up in the Midlands National when sent off the 11-2 favourite, but Colin Tizzard’s charge showed he was approaching his best when runner-up on his return at Fontwell last month.

He does have a National on his record already, the Sussex version at Plumpton in January.

“I thought he ran a solid race last time at Fontwell. He did get a bit tired, but he is a horse that always improves from his first run,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father.

“He loves these extreme races. There is not necessarily a class horse in the race this year, and he is on a lovely racing weight – which gives him a chance.

“He has been competing in these sort of races at a lesser grade, but we know the trip and conditions will be fine for him.

“He has progressed through these National-type races, and we thought this was an obvious target for him before the new year.”

Tom George is not at all concerned about the testing conditions for Springfield Fox, who is in his element when the mud is flying.

“His preparation has been exactly as we wanted it to be. He’s had the one run over hurdles, which blew the cobwebs away, and he’s been schooling nicely over fences,” George told Sky Sports Racing.

“It will never get too soft for Springfield Fox. He absolutely adores wet ground.”

Sherwood eyes Sandown with Little Awkward

Oliver Sherwood has Sandown’s European Breeders’ Fund Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final in mind as a long-term target for Little Awkward, following his victory at Plumpton.

The four-year-old made a successful jumping debut when making all to win unchallenged in the Derek Hunnisett Memorial ‘National Hunt’ Auction Maiden Hurdle on Monday.

Sherwood is not getting too carried away just yet, because it looked a moderate contest, but he was delighted with the manner of the performance.

“It was a pretty average race, with due respect to the others, but I was more pleased with the way he jumped and travelled,” said the Upper Lambourn trainer.

“He’s a cracking little horse. I wasn’t sure – I normally hate going two and a half (miles) first time, and he’s always shown a lot of speed.

“(But) I’m delighted – he did it very well.

“He needs a bit more experience. I’d like to get him qualified for the EBF final. That would be my ultimate goal, possibly.

“We’ll try to run with a penalty somewhere and go for an EBF qualifier and the final, I would think.”

Sevarano (right) in winning action at Sandown
Sevarano (right) in winning action at Sandown (Michael Steele/PA)

Stablemate Sevarano may bid to take his 100 per cent record over fences to three at Newbury on December 29.

Sherwood is eyeing a novice handicap chase over an extended two and a three-quarter miles for the seven-year-old, who has won his first two starts over fences at Sandown and Exeter.

“He’s probably going to go for a novice handicap at Newbury between Christmas and new year,” he said.

“Touch wood, he’s been very good. I’ve been very happy with his jumping. He’s been a total natural.”