'I don't wake up and think, God... Harvey Smith! We're a team. We work together'

The Interview - Sue Smith. A woman trainer with a famous best mate is making a name for herself in a man's world.

Even the most duplicitous estate agent would have trouble marketing Craiglands Farm. Perched atop Bingley Moor, an idyllic or cheerless expanse of Yorkshire - depending on your perspective - it appears sad and neglected, this resting place for old farm machinery, with its derelict stone outhouses, and a potholed track which requires negotiation to gain entrance. As Harvey Smith, the master of all he surveys, all 150 acres of it, has declared with a degree of contemptuousness: "This is not a place for polished door handles or hanging baskets."

Even the most duplicitous estate agent would have trouble marketing Craiglands Farm. Perched atop Bingley Moor, an idyllic or cheerless expanse of Yorkshire - depending on your perspective - it appears sad and neglected, this resting place for old farm machinery, with its derelict stone outhouses, and a potholed track which requires negotiation to gain entrance. As Harvey Smith, the master of all he surveys, all 150 acres of it, has declared with a degree of contemptuousness: "This is not a place for polished door handles or hanging baskets."

Indeed, so. That this is a racing yard, one of the most successful in the north, initially takes some believing. Yet, you swiftly discover that appearances could not be more deceptive. Within, energy and industry abound, and clearly the 55 horses in training together with young ones strengthening and being broken in, some of whom thrust their heads out of their boxes to survey Bradford, Bingley, Leeds, Shipley and Otley in the far distance, thrive on the environment. At least, that's to judge by the progress of Harvey's wife, Sue.

The woman who began her racing career as a hobby 14 years ago with her husband and assistant Harvey, training a few horses, including her father's, is currently eighth in the jumps trainers' table, with 59 winners from 380 runners this season. Among those charges are her pair of Grand National contenders, Artic Jack, an imposing eight-year-old, and Ardent Scout, already a winner at Aintree but, at 12, now entering the veteran stage.

Smith has not been blessed with fortune in the annual charge of obstacles which ask the ultimate of horse and rider. Kildimo, who had been a winner of the Becher Chase over those National fences, appeared a live contender. But that was in 1993, the year of the void race. Four years ago, her prolific winner The Last Fling, whom they had bought as a five-year-old, was seventh. In the 2002 race, he fell, fatally. Last year, the same fate befell her Goguenard in the National. "I've lived with horses all my life, as long as I can remember, and you do learn to cope with it," she says. "You do get upset; of course you do. Everyone goes out of their way to make things as safe as possible, but you're always going to get freak accidents in this job, aren't you."

Her highly regarded stable jockey, Dominic Elsworth, will partner Artic Jack, set to carry 11st 4lb, which the trainer believes is excessive, considering what he has achieved. Warren Marston will ride Ardent Scout, who carries 10st. "We've got two horses, both suited to the National, I believe. Ardent Scout is most definitely. He's won the Becher Chase [in 2002], so he's familiar with the fences. Artic Jack's got to prove himself over course and trip. The only question is: will he get the four and a half miles? But he did win the Peter Marsh Chase [at Haydock] which is three miles. He's a big, game, front-running horse who jumps particularly well. He definitely needs a good bit of cut in the ground. Ardent Scout wouldn't want it too soft, but the old lad's proven over fences. I'd like to think that both will run big races. Third time lucky, eh?"

The latter has recovered from a fractured fetlock. He finished what his trainer believed was an excellent fourth in his comeback race at Wetherby. She was fined £800 under the rule relating to "schooling horses in public". She was livid, appealed against the stewards' verdict, but lost. She shakes her head philosophically. "It's gone," she says. "We know we didn't cheat, but they seem to think we did."

It is a rare blight on an otherwise impressive career. In this season's unofficial women-only National Hunt league, a burgeoning category, with more and more of the distaff side following such pioneers as Jenny Pitman, her tally is rather more than Henrietta Knight (although she is streets ahead of anybody in terms of prize money because of Best Mate) but less than leader Venetia Williams.

Not everyone approves of this trend, and you imagine certain sections of the male majority could be quite sniffy. "Only Ginger McCain [Red Rum's trainer, who returns to Aintree on Saturday with last year's third, Amberleigh House]," Smith says, her features breaking into a smile. "He says 'I can't be dealing with these women trainers'. But it's a standing joke between us. He's lovely, a good old stick. Of course, you do get the odd comment from the public, because Harvey's Harvey, isn't he? You'll hear someone in the crowd say 'Oh, of course, that horse is running under Sue Smith's name, but Harvey's really the trainer'. It's all rubbish, of course. We've all got our part to play."

Smith, originally from west Sussex, adds in a tone which betrays just a hint of her adopted county: "I've always been brought up in a man's world. So, whatever men say or do, if they have a superior attitude, it's water off a duck's back to me, I'm afraid. I give men as good as they get. I'm not particularly concerned about their egos. Of course, Harvey's the one who has the famous name, but it makes no difference to me whatsoever. I don't wake up in the morning and think 'God... Harvey Smith!' We're a team; we work together.

"Everywhere you go in the country, in the world, you'll find someone who knows Harvey Smith. He was top of his job. But he's happy to sit back a bit now. But one of us wouldn't do it without the other.

It's difficult to imagine from all the preconceptions we harbour of that "Heathcliff on horseback", who held the British Jumping Derby a record seven times during a career in which he won over 50 Grand Prix events on such horses as O'Malley, Harvester and Farmer's Boy, that the Yorkshireman would agreeably accept a back-seat on this racing tandem.

But his wife maintains: "It doesn't really matter whose name is on the licence. We started off quietly, not originally as a business, so Harvey isn't bothered about that. It's not a matter of who's the famous one. It's a matter of: can you work together, can you be good at the job, and can you go and win? That's Harvey's attitude."

Born on a farm in Sussex, where her early life revolved around ponies and horses, Sue Dye - as she was - became an international showjumper and ladies' champion. Her father owned racehorses at the time and she would ride them out at Epsom. Meanwhile, Harvey was busy being Harvey Smith, notorious for that V-sign directed towards the judges at Hickstead. A Churchillian gesture, he protested. Downright rude, they contended. Either way, a "Harvey Smith" was introduced into the Chambers Dictionary, meaning a sign of contempt.

Harvey already owned Craiglands Farm when Sue moved up to join him 20 years ago. Her first winner was in 1990: African Safari won a three-runner chase at Ascot. Harvey, who had been riding at Windsor Show, had bought him at Ascot Sales for 4,300 guineas. "There's no way, with a person like him, that you sit around saying, 'We may not make a go of it'. You do make a go of it," she says. "Everything we do is positive. There's never a suggestion that we weren't going to succeed."

She adds: "I concentrate on the horses. Harvey's very good with the jockeys. He looks after the gallops which is a big job, and looks after all the schooling of horses. He's got a great talent for buying nice horses at the sales. I do feeding, ride out, do all the entries. What we've learnt is that it's relentless. Seven days a week, particularly with the Sunday racing they've brought in. There are times when you think: 'I'd like to stop. Please, I need a week off', because this place is just a bit harder work than the average racing yard. There's always something going on. We've got 2,000 sheep as well. It's not like some neat stables with 45 boxes and that's it. And in the evening you go and do the gardening.

"Harvey's like Terry [Biddlecombe, second half of the Henrietta Knight team]. He was a top-class rider. So, the pair of them, they can turn round to a jockey getting on a horse, and say 'you need to be doing this, this, and this...' Even though it was show jumping, when Harvey went through the start in a speed class, he took the straightest route in the fastest possible time. It's exactly the same on the racecourse. He knows how to explain that to a jockey. That's why he has their total respect."

And no doubt his reputation precedes him? "He is what he is," she says. "Yes, he's abrupt. He's a strong character of a man. He says what he thinks, and that's it. He's no different to what he was 20 years ago, or I'm sure 30 years ago. He's quite easy to get on with, provided people work hard. He's not a monster."

Sue Smith had no doubts on that score when she became Mrs Harvey Smith, and moved to Yorkshire. "The horses love this environment," she says. "It's a pleasure riding them out here. We've got the whole of the moor, which helps them relax and keeps it interesting for them."

It keeps them fit, too, and prepared to do themselves justice on Saturday when an overdue success in the marathon steeplechase would this time be signalled by raised fingers which would be ones of triumph.

Biography: Sue Smith

Born: 23 Feb 1948. Married to former showjumper, Harvey.

Early career: Formerly an international showjumper, she also rode out at Epsom in her teens. In 1972 rode in the first ladies' race at Kempton, and was unplaced on the 50-1 shot Beau Canard.

Training career: Began as a permit holder, gaining full licence in 1990. Has accumulated 468 winners. Last season was her best with 74. Best horses include Kildimo, The Last Fling, Royal Emperor, Artic Jack and Ardent Scout.

Grand National fact: Artic Jack will run in the colours of Trevor Hemmings, the owner of Blackpool Tower. He was also the owner of The Last Fling and Goguenard, both killed in the National.

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