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Sub Lieutenant’s National spin gives Tabitha Worsley moment to cherish

Tabitha Worsley is filled with pride after her family’s beloved Sub Lieutenant carried her to 15th place in the Grand National.

Worsley’s mount was backed from 100-1 to 50-1 for the big race after the public were moved by the endearing underdog story of the 12-year-old and his small-scale trainer Georgie Howell, who is Worsley’s mother and has a stable of only six horses.

Saturday’s performance was a first Grand National experience for both horse and jockey, and together they were one of just three English combinations to pass the winning post.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Worsley said on Sunday.

“We always said we’d be happy if we go there and get round and finish in the top half, we’ve done exactly that.

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“He’s just a hero, the horse, we couldn’t be prouder of him.

“Three English finishers and we were one of them, we just couldn’t be happier, and he’s all good this morning which is the main thing.”

Worsley was near the rear of the field throughout the race and felt her veteran mount lacked the pace to really challenge the front-runners, but navigating the National course at any speed is no mean feat and the family were thrilled by his efforts.

“He’s just done us all proud,” she said.

“I knew going out on the last circuit that I had no chance of winning the race, he was run off his feet and he just doesn’t have the speed he had as a younger horse.

“He’s finished tired, but he’s finished happy, he’s not exhausted.

“He was just unbelievable, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer horse to have a spin round on.”

The jockey had received some pre-race words of encouragement from Sub Lieutenant’s previous rider Rachael Blackmore, who went on to make history aboard Minella Times when she became the first woman to ever ride the winner of the National.

Blackmore’s victory breaks new ground for female riders and her skill in the saddle has Worsley’s full admiration.

“She is just unbelievable, she’s something special,” she said of her weighing-room colleague.

“I spoke to her afterwards to say ‘well done, what an amazing achievement’ and the first thing she did was ask how I got on – that’s the measure of her.

“She just is amazing, everything about her, she’s the ultimate professional and you wouldn’t meet a nicer jockey.”

History beckons again for Rachael Blackmore

A first female Grand National-winning jockey looks more likely than ever this year, as three women are set to take their chance at making history.

Leading the charge is Cheltenham Festival heroine Rachael Blackmore, who was top rider at the season’s pinnacle meeting when winning six races – including the Champion Hurdle.

Blackmore now turns her attention to Aintree and will partner Minella Times in the big race, with the eight-year-old trained by her most loyal supporter and the man behind many of her Festival wins, Henry de Bromhead.

Minella Times has been ridden by Blackmore on his last three starts, with a win in a Listowel handicap chase followed by two runner-up spots in competitive large-field contests at Leopardstown.

Rachael Blackmore at the 2019 Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree
Rachael Blackmore at the 2019 Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree (Paul Harding/PA)

Having inevitably attracted plenty of market support, the JP McManus-owned gelding will provide Blackmore with her third ride in the world’s greatest steeplechase after two previous efforts in 2018 and 2019.

“I’m really looking forward to riding him – he’s had two very nice runs in handicaps at home,” she said.

“He seems very well, (and) his jumping technique is good.

“It’s a Grand National, and anything can happen, but I wouldn’t swap him anyway.”

Honeysuckle was a famous winner for Rachael Blackmore at Cheltenham
Honeysuckle was a famous winner for Rachael Blackmore at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Minella Times has never run at Aintree and will be tackling the unique course for the first time on Saturday. But De Bromhead has created some National-style fences and home, and Blackmore reports the horse fared well when introduced to them.

“Henry put up some Aintree-looking fences, a bit of spruce – he seemed to take to them well,” she said.

“His jumping technique has been good, so I’m really looking forward to riding something like him.

“He jumps and he travels. There’s plenty of unknowns over this distance, but we couldn’t be happier with him.

“We’re just hoping for a nice run round.”

Blackmore’s first National ride ended in a fall when she parted ways with Alpha Des Obeaux, but her 2019 tilt was more successful – steering Valseur Lido home in 10th place.

“I got around last time on Valseur Lido – I got a kick out of that,” she said.

“He was a fantastic ride. It would be great now if we could get a bit closer this year.

“I hope if people are backing me I can make sure they don’t go broke!”

Blackmore collecting the Cheltenham Festival leading jockey trophy
Blackmore collecting the Cheltenham Festival leading jockey trophy (David Davies/PA)
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Blackmore’s earliest memories of racing involve watching the race as a child, and the 31-year-old has dreamed of success since then.

“I think every kid on a pony does (dream of winning),” she said.

“The Grand National captures everybody’s imagination.

“Any kid on a pony, out jumping anything that resembles a hedge, you’re thinking about the Grand National.”

Bryony Frost also rode in the National for the first time in 2018, finishing fifth on Milansbar for trainer Neil King in the same race that saw Tiger Roll claim the first of his two successive victories.

Yala Enki (right) and Bryony Frost in action together
Yala Enki (right) and Bryony Frost in action together (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

An injury ruled her out of participating in 2019, but Frost will be in action this time as she takes the ride on the Paul Nicholls-trained Yala Enki.

The duo have become well acquainted since the gelding left the yard of Venetia Williams before the start of the 2019 season, winning two renewals of the Portman Cup at Taunton and coming third in the Welsh Grand National twice.

A tilt at the Becher Chase in December did not go as planned, with the 11-year-old falling at the first fence over the condensed National course.

The jockey has schooled her mount over similar obstacles since that spill, however, and remains open-minded as to which ground conditions would be most suitable.

“It was not ideal falling at the first in the Becher, but we have done a lot of practice at home and we’ve let him see replica Grand National fences since that day,” she said.

“His form has come on soft, because he stays very well, but I actually think he jumps better off the better ground.

“There are two negatives and two positives to take from both sides of better and softer ground.

Tabitha Worsley
Tabitha Worsley (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’ve just got to get him out there galloping, and at the end of the day a race like that is all about luck.”

Representing a stable a fraction of the size of Nicholls’ will be Tabitha Worsley, who takes the ride on the veteran Sub Lieutenant.

Owned and trained by her mother, Georgie Howell, Worsley’s mount was purchased for her to ride and is rated nearly 50lb higher than any of the five other horses in the yard.

“It’s a real family affair – my brother and sister-in-law will be leading him up together, and I ride him most days,” Worsley said of the set-up.

“We are a proper little family team, and just to have that support – all of us going there together – it’s amazing.

“I generally stay quite relaxed. It’ll be more excitement than anything else, but my mum on the other hand…

“She’s terrified but very excited as well. I don’t think we’ll fully believe it until we get there.”

Worsley triumphed in the 2019 Foxhunters’ Chase aboard Top Wood, an amateurs’ race run over a lap of the same course as the National, and is hopeful that Sub Lieutenant can recreate that winning ride.

Top Wood and Tabitha Worsley on the way to winning the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase
Top Wood and Tabitha Worsley on the way to winning the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase (Nigel French/PA)

“Anyone would dream of winning the National,” she said.

“It’s an amazing race, and I daren’t even think about winning it.

“Just to be there in the 40 horses, with the real top guns and the best of the best, it’s amazing – it’s what we’ve dreamed of.”

Sub Lieutenant was previously trained by De Bromhead and has form over the Aintree fences, having finished second in the Topham Chase at the 2019 meeting.

Blackmore was in the saddle that day, and both she and De Bromhead provided Worsley with some words of encouragement when they crossed paths at Cheltenham.

“I was riding out for Henry all of Cheltenham week this year, so I found out a bit more about him,” she said.

“He said he is such a fun horse to have about and he is a lovely horse.

“He said he can see him running a really nice race – so let’s hope he isn’t wrong.

Sub Lieutenant winning at Galway
Sub Lieutenant winning at Galway (PA)

“I asked Rachael about him when I was riding out for Henry, and she said if you think he jumps a normal fence well, then wait until you get him over one of those Aintree fences.

“She said he won’t travel between the fences, but as soon as he is in those wings he just lights up, so that filled me with a lot of excitement as well.”

All three women riding this year will be aiming to better the 2012 performance of Katie Walsh, who partnered Seabass to the highest-ever placing achieved by a female jockey when finishing third.

Walsh was thrilled to see Blackmore thrive at this year’s Festival, and would happily surrender her position as the race’s most successful female jockey.

“That wouldn’t even cross my mind to be honest with you,” she said, at the suggestion she might want to retain her record.

“I’ve never thought of myself as someone who’s finished the best place in the National – and personally I’d love to see Rachael win it.

“Rachael was phenomenal at Cheltenham, and it was great TV.

Seabass and jockey Katie Walsh (left) during the 2012 Grand National
Seabass and jockey Katie Walsh (left) during the 2012 Grand National (David Davies/PA)

“She was brilliant – take male or female out of it – she was absolutely super, and I suppose the picture has changed really quickly.”

There was widespread resistance when Charlotte Brew became the first woman to ride in the National in 1977, but the consistent presence of Walsh and Nina Carberry has made female jockeys a celebrated part of the race in recent years.

Now Walsh believes there is no doubt that a woman will lift the National trophy, with the only question being when.

“I was on Seabass in 2012, and people didn’t really believe it could happen, but now it feels as though it’s a matter of when (a female jockey will ride the Grand National winner),” she said.

“It’s a great day for whoever wins it, and it’s a great race to be involved in, so may the best man win – male or female.”

Worsley eager to seize Aintree opportunity with Sub Lieutenant

Tabitha Worsley will fly the flag for her whole family when she tackles the Randox Grand National aboard their much-loved Sub Lieutenant.

The 12-year-old is owned and trained by Worsley’s mother, Georgie Howell, and was purchased last September with the veteran chase series in mind.

A minor injury ruled him out of that competition, but two credible runs in three-mile Listed chases at Ascot swayed the family in the direction of the biggest staying event of them all.

“The race at Ascot looked like a nice starting point, and he ran well there,” said Worsley.

“After that we thought ‘the National looks a very good race for him.’

“When you’ve got a horse that could go, it could be the only chance we ever get to do that. The more we talked about it, the more we thought that – and it became the plan.”

Sub Lieutenant winning the SCL Sales Steeplechase at Galway for his previous owners
Sub Lieutenant winning the SCL Sales Steeplechase at Galway for his previous owners (PA)

The gelding will provide both mother and daughter with their first experience of the race itself, but Worsley is already familiar with the famous Aintree course – having won the Foxhunters’ on Top Wood at the 2019 meeting.

Worsley considers the two horses to share several traits and is hoping luck will be on her side again when she bids to maintain her unbeaten record over the track.

“They’ve got a lot of similarities in that they just get into a nice rhythm and just travel and jump,” she said.

“They’re very clever at their fences and just really honest gallopers.

“I’ll line up with a bit of space somewhere and try to find a little pocket, get into a rhythm and ride the race as it comes.

“With 40 horses you need a lot of luck in running, but if I can just find a pocket and have a nice little run round like I did on Top Wood, it’d be spot on.”

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Top Wood and Tabitha Worsley on the way to winning the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase at Aintree in 2019
Top Wood and Tabitha Worsley on the way to winning the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase at Aintree in 2019 (Nigel French/PA)

Sub Lieutenant was formerly campaigned in the silks of Gigginstown House Stud and trained by Henry de Bromhead, winning eight races and finishing second in both the Ryanair Chase and the Melling Chase in 2017, and then the Topham Chase over the National fences in 2019.

He is therefore well acquainted with the challenge ahead, and Worsley reports him to be as eager as ever as he verges on his teenage years.

“He’s been around for a long time, but he certainly doesn’t lack the enthusiasm,” she said.

“If you sit on him at home, you don’t think he’s a 12-year-old – he’s fairly wild at the minute!

“He went to Lambourn to have a school and a good bit of work, and my mum said she was having kittens when she put him out afterwards because he was just doing handstands, so he’s obviously taken it well!”

“He’s probably at the age now where he appreciates an easier way of life, where he does something different every day.

“He doesn’t spend that much time on the gallops – he likes to canter on the fields around the farm, and we keep him really sweet and happy.”

Worsley’s mother trains a string of just six horses in Tenbury Wells, with all of the family involved in the yard and the whole team planning to travel to Aintree for the race.

“It’s a real family affair – my brother and sister-in-law will be leading him up together, and I ride him most days,” she said.

“We are a proper little family team, and just to have that support – all of us going there together – it’s amazing.

“I generally stay quite relaxed. It’ll be more excitement than anything else, but my mum on the other hand … I don’t think she’ll sleep for the next few days.

“She’s terrified but very excited as well. I don’t think we’ll fully believe it until we get there.”

Sub Lieutenant is likely to line up as an outsider, but his jockey knows the Grand National can throw up a surprise and cites long-odds winners such as Mon Mome and Aurora’s Encore as one reason the race has become such a spectacle.

“It’s one of those races, how often do you see a favourite win?” she said.

“You’ve got to have luck in running. Mon Mome bolted up – and I think that also adds to the public appeal, in that anyone could win it.

“Even if you’re a rank outsider, if you get the right run through the race and a bit of luck, anyone can win.

“It’s not necessarily the classiest or even the best horse that wins it – it’s the one who copes with the conditions the best and has the best run round.”

Although both horse and rider are proven at Aintree, Worsley is still thrilled by the mere thought of lining up there for a race she has always revered.

“Anyone would dream of winning the National. It’s an amazing race, and I daren’t even think about winning it,” she said.

Sub Lieutenant (yellow silks) in the Swinley Chase at Ascot Racecourse
Sub Lieutenant (yellow silks) in the Swinley Chase at Ascot Racecourse (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Just to be there in the 40 horses, with the real top guns and the best of the best, it’s amazing – it’s what we’ve dreamed of.

“It’s just so unique, four miles and two (furlongs), those big daunting fences, it’s the people’s race and it’s one of the biggest races in the world. It’s a unique spectacle.”

A victory, or even a placed run, would financially justify the £50,000 sum the family spent to buy the horse, but Worsley is adamant he has already repaid them.

“He already is worth every penny,” she said.

“He’s given us two brilliant days at Ascot, finishing fourth in two Listed races.

“That’s why we bought him. We wanted something we could run that would win on a Saturday – and if he could win (the National), it’d just be unbelievable.

“He’s been the horse of a lifetime. He’s already repaid us by giving us two really fun days out, and hopefully there’ll be more to come.

“Whatever happens, he’ll never leave us.”