Pitman gives thanks for her dream career

GRAND NATIONAL: The winning trainer proves she is not a `twisted old bird' by relishing her good fortune and eschewing self pity
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Jenny Pitman was restless on Saturday night after winning the Grand National with Royal Athlete and decided to leave her hotel room for a walk. The trainer's insomnia was brought about by pondering her luck in training great horses and she had to discuss it with someone else.

Pitman slipped a dressing gown over her Damart pyjamas and, at 2am, went to find a friend in an adjoining room. "We talked a lot and drank a lot of tea," she said yesterday. "It was good.

"I've won two Gold Cups, two Grand Nationals and a King George and any of those horses would have been the gift of a lifetime to a trainer. I was lying in bed last night thinking about that, that I've had more than my fair share."

Jennifer Susan Pitman has also attracted at least her fair share of newsprint over the years and she remains engagingly unpredictable. At times as frightening as a wolf at the sheep pen, she was again a reporters' dream at the weekend as her devotion to thoroughbreds was repeated. Jenny likes horses better then humans and she'd probably tell you she likes humans better than journalists.

The trainer was digging at the Fourth Estate as soon as Saturday's press conference commenced. Earlier she had been so emotional after Royal Athlete's win that her family were close to calling an ambulance. "I flopped down on a settee and they thought I'd keeled over," she said. "I think Mark [her son and assistant trainer] was thinking about where the key to my will box was."

Then came a red-eyed visit to the press centre as Jenny drew so extravagantly on a cigarette that tobacco shares suddenly came to everyone's mind.

When Pitman is around something usually happens and this conference did not disappoint. As she spoke, in home-movie tradition a huge Martell motif fell off the wall behind her and hit a journalist on the head.

In the seats in front of the triumphant one, an overserved interloper had broken through the security cordon. "Do you like white horses, or do you like black horses?" he asked in Scouse accent to his own great amusement but not to Jenny's. "I like them both, mate," she said as the uniformed folk closed in.

"With all the problems he [Royal Athlete] has had, every year I've trained him has cost me five," Pitman added in between taking calls on the mobile phone. Her bitten-down nails suggested this was not hyperbole.

Mrs P just beat Royal Athlete home to Weathercock House in Upper Lambourn yesterday. He arrived at 1.58 to find a bunch of photographers, balloons and banners all over the place, and streamers on his stable door.

The trainer was in great demand among the many camera crews and seemed to have an original anecdote for each of them. One she told that there were two men who had given away the National by refusing to ride Alfie (as Royal Athlete is known in the yard); another was informed that this had been a victory for co-incidence. Earlier in the week a pair of earrings that she had last worn in 1983 when Corbiere won at Liverpool fell out of her jewellery box. And when she looked at photographs of that occasion she noticed that Mark, whose arm is in plaster at the moment, was also in a sling at that time. "I dreamed that one of our [six] horses won the National," she said. "But I just couldn't see which one."

This would have been Pitman's third National had Esha Ness's "victory" not been declared void two years ago after the starting fiasco. "When you look at the tragedies that people have in their lives, that day at Aintree was insignificant," she said. "I'd be a very twisted old bird if I didn't lock the past away."

There were hugs all round, one of the firmest for Alan Walker, the vet who helped rebuild Royal Athlete's brittle legs. "He's very sensitive," Walker said. "Even when you bandage his legs you've got to be careful. I don't think I've ever looked at another horse's legs as often as I've looked at his."

And there was also an embrace for Jason Titley, the talented young Irish jockey who was having his first ride for the stable. Titley may be 24 but he still has the blotchy pink complexion of youth. He has been based in Britain since only last August, but has proved himself further advanced than the snow plough when it comes to racing's aprs-ski. At the recent "Lesters", the awards night for jockeys at the Hilton on London's Park Lane, Titley became disorientated after a night's pleasure and was found some time after hours in a cupboard.

Saturday's was a rather more low-key affair ("I left at 3am and just about everyone else was still there") with workmates who included Adrian Maguire and Richard Dunwoody.

Yesterday, though, his fortune seemed on the wane. There were several dogs around Weathercock House and the jockey stepped into the consequence of one of their actions. "That's it," he said as he scoured his boot on a verge. "My luck's run out."

FINISHERS AND FAILURES

1. Royal Athlete 40-1; 2. Party Politics 16-1; 3. Over The Deel 100-1; 4. Dubacilla 9-1; dead-heat 5. Into The Red 20-1; dead-heat 5. Romany King 40-1; 7. Master Oats 5-1 fav; 8. Riverside Boy 40-1; 9. Garrison Savannah 16-1; 10. Topsham Bay 20-1; 11. Cool Ground 50-1; 12. Ebony Jane 20-1; 13. Gold Cap 50-1; 14. Crystal Spirit 12-1; 15. For William 100- 1.

DROPPING-OFF POINTS: 1st fence: Country Member 11-1 fell, Jumbeau 100- 1 brought down, Tinryland 50-1 fell, Bishops Hall 66-1 fell, Lusty Light 12-1 fell, The Committee 75-1 fell, Errant Knight 75-1 unseated rider; 3rd fence: Young Hustler 10-1 unseated rider, Zeta's Lad 50-1 unseated rider, General Pershing 20-1 fell; 10th fence: Superior Finish 33-1 unseated rider, Dakyns Boy 50-1 fell; 12th fence: Esha Ness 50-1 fell, It's A Snip 200-1 fell, Chatam 25-1 fell; 20th fence: Do Be Brief 66-1 fell, Nuaffe 20-1 fell; 21st fence: Camelot Knight 66-1 fell, Desert Lord 100-1 fell; 25th fence: Miinnehoma 11-1 pulled up.

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