Racing: Amberleigh guarantees grand legacy for McCain

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The Independent Online

Amberleigh House was spinning around on the back lawn yesterday at his premises at Bankhouse, on the Cholmondeley estate in rural south-west Cheshire. Indeed, Lady Cholmondeley herself had lowered the portcullis from her castle to come to admire the returning hero of Saturday's Grand National.

Amberleigh House was spinning around on the back lawn yesterday at his premises at Bankhouse, on the Cholmondeley estate in rural south-west Cheshire. Indeed, Lady Cholmondeley herself had lowered the portcullis from her castle to come to admire the returning hero of Saturday's Grand National.

Donald McCain fell quite easily into the role of the man back from the crusades, the man who had conquered. The trainer had slipped away quietly from a party at the local, The Poacher, the previous night. It was the only clandestine thing he did all weekend.

A refreshed McCain was talking the talk once again yesterday morning. Amberleigh House was in good nick too considering the trek he had just undertaken.

As usual, they had gone far too fast in a National. There had been the disturbingly familiar images of horses colliding with terra firma, but the fates had been well disposed. It was a harsh race without harsh consequences. We counted back all the jockeys and horses.

Amberleigh House yesterday looked as though he could do it all again, which he will have to next season, when Aintree's Becher Chase in November will be the other significant booking in his programme. "The vets examined him after the race and they were amazed at how slow his heartbeat was," McCain said. "The year before he was drunk because the race got right to the bottom of him. When he came home he lay down. He didn't even have the energy to have his usual roll. But look at him there now."

Winning the Grand National is routinely the spur for celebrity itself, but it may be that Amberleigh is doomed forever to be known as the other horse trained by McCain. It may be 27 years since Red Rum last won a National and a decade since his death, but McCain still salutes the horse which made him.

"We had great times together," the trainer said. "I had him for 23 years. It was a love-hate relationship in some ways when he was a younger horse. I loved him and he hated me. But this one's a bright thing, like old Red. They're both true professionals, both horses that have been around for a long time and have had hard lives, which has made them the horses they are."

In the ferment surrounding the Don, it also seemed that much of the attention missed Graham Lee, a quietly significant figure on Saturday. The Irish jockey had a buckaroo ride over the first six fences and, in the mad traffic of loose animals, Amberleigh House became a frightened horse.

However, Lee resisted the urge to panic. The 28-year-old rider felt his way back into the race. "The event gets to a lot of them, but you could not give enough credit to our jockey," McCain said. "He gave it an absolutely brilliant ride. He hung on to him when 90 per cent of jockeys would have gone."

It was also victory for the old notion of Aintree form. Amberleigh House and Clan Royal, the runner-up, had already won over the mountainous spruces, while Monty's Pass, last year's winner, finished fourth. The fancied, untried horses, such as Jurancon II and Joss Naylor crumbled at the obstacles.

Like the whole meeting itself, the National is not a place which rewards fancy dans. More yeoman qualities are required for survival both on and off course. "The Aintree element was there all right," McCain said. "All those flash buggers took one look at those fences and disappeared down a rabbit hole."

This was vintage McCain, who never closes off the path between brain and mouth. He revealed on Saturday that he had hoped the front three horses would fall when they got clear, thus vocalising a thought others occasionally feel but never, ever make public.

"People don't send us a lot of horses," he added. "My missus says it's my approach, that I shouldn't talk to my owners like I do. John Halewood [Amberleigh House's owner] has been very faithful, but we did have a bit of mishmash somewhere. He said that I told him to stick his horses up his arse once."

As he stood red-faced in his porch at Bankside yesterday, McCain was glowing, back in the warmth of the spotlight once more. He was a welcome serial interviewee. For now that a fourth Grand National has come his way, it can never be said that Red Rum did it by himself, that anyone could have thrown a saddle over the old horse and been successful. No longer will they be able to say that Donald McCain is a one-pony trick.

National breakdown: The jockeys' verdicts on the finishers and fallers

1 Amberleigh House 16-1

Graham Lee: "I didn't have a good passage over the first six fences with loose horses. He had to jump Becher's from a standstill first time round and got a bit of a fright."

2 Clan Royal 10-1 co fav

Liam Cooper: "I lost my whip five out but it didn't make any difference. In fact I think it helped us."

3 Lord Atterbury 40-1

Mark Bradburne: "You need a horse with a bit of speed at the end but he's an out-and-out galloper."

4 Monty's Pass 20-1

Barry Geraghty: "It was a combination of the weight and the ground that beat him. He's a much better horse on fast ground."

5 Spot Thedifference 50-1

Richard McGrath: "He gave me a great ride. It was a thrill to get round."

6 Smarty 100-1

Andrew Tinkler: "We were no danger on the second circuit but he kept trying the whole way."

7 Ardent Scout 50-1

Warren Marston: "He jumped great and never touched a fence, but he was hampered at Becher's each time by loose horses. I think I might have been fourth or fifth otherwise."

8 Bear On Board 14-1

Robert Thornton: "He got rid of me twice before the start, but he ran a solid race, jumping really well. He got very tired in the closing stages."

9 Kingsmark 66-1

Mick Fitzgerald: "I had a great ride. The ground was a bit too quick."

10 The Bunny Boiler 33-1

Ross Geraghty: "He was always jumping that bit slowly and they got away from us on the final circuit."

11 Davids Lad 12-1

Timmy Murphy: "We couldn't get to the leaders and, after the rain, the ground was bit too soft."

Artic Jack (fell 1st fence) 20-1

Dominic Elsworth: "It was short-lived.

Luzcadou (fell 1st) 200-1

Brian Harding: "He fell."

Kelami (brought down 1st) 66-1

Thierry Doumen: "I was brought down. There was nothing I could do."

Shardam unseated rider 3rd 18-1

Tom Scudamore: Taken to hospital with broken arm.

Jurancon II fell 4th 10-1 co fav

Tony McCoy: "I don't really know what happened. We might have been knocked over. I was going all right at the time."

Akarus (fell 6th) 33-1

Rodi Greene: "A loose horse ran down the fence and caused carnage. I was baulked and just could not jump the fence."

Bounce Back (fell 6th) 50-1

Andrew Thornton: "He turned a somersault."

Montreal fell 6th 200-1

Joey Elliott: "I was in mid-division when a loose horse ran into a couple of us and I came down."

Risk Assessor (ur 6th) 66-1

Seamus Durack: "We got bumped on the take-off side of the fence and he landed on top of it."

Skycab (ur 6th) 200-1

Leighton Aspell: "He got caught in the mêlée caused by the loose horse. He did his best to stay up. He'd jumped the first five super and it was a big disappointment."

Bindaree (bd 6th) 10-1 co fav

Carl Llewellyn: "I was hampered by a loose horse going into the fence."

What's Up Boys (bd 6th) 25-1

Richard Johnson: "A horse fell in front of him and he had nowhere to go."

Blowing Wind refused 6th 33-1

Jimmy McCarthy: "He's getting on now and refused."

Bramblehill Duke (ref 6th) 200-1

James Davies: Taken to hospital.

Exit To Wave (pu) 9th 50-1

Bobby McNally: "My buckle went at Becher's. I had to jump the next two because I couldn't pull him up, but he had jumped brilliantly and was just warning up."

Takagi unseated rider 15th 25-1

Davy Russell: "He gave me a great ride, but he just left his hind legs in the ditch at the Chair. He was just getting warmed up and I was beginning to get happy."

Mantles Prince (pu 16th) 250-1

Ollie McPhail: "He just didn't have a cut at the fences like he did last year."

Alexander Banquet (fell 18th) 100-1

Shay Barry: "He gave me a great ride until a loose horse fell in front of us and he jumped into the board."

Southern Star pu 18th 25-1

Joe Tizzard: "He didn't like the fences."

Gunner Welburn pu 18th 22-1

Tony Dobbin: "It felt like he bled because he stopped so quickly, but nothing showed up."

Puntal (unseated rider 19th) 150-1

Danny Howard: "He gave me a great ride, it was the thrill of a lifetime."

Joss Naylor (pu 19th) 10-1 co fav

Paul Carberry: "He never travelled at all, he just didn't like it."

Le Coudray ur 22nd 28-1

Conor O'Dwyer: "He was going OK, but it was a long way out and it is hard to know what would have happened."

Just in Debt ur 23rd 33-1

Jim Culloty: "He was getting tired, but I think he would have finished."

Alcapone pulled up 25th 80-1

Noel Fehily: "He was very tired but I had a brilliant spin."

Wonder Weasel pu 28th 200-1

JP McNamara: "He lasted a lot longer than last year but they were always going too quick for him from halfway."

Royal Atalza pu 29th 100-1

Paul Moloney: "He didn't stay, but he gave me a brilliant ride and he will be the ideal horse for the Topham next year."

Hedgehunter fell 30th 11-1

David Casey: "He was probably just going too well and had to do too much in front. He didn't deserve to fall. I am disappointed, but more so for the horse. He was just tired and gave me everything all the way. Let's hope he'll be back next year."