Racing: Avro Anson an Aintree high flier

John Cobb talks to a trainer with a calm approach to the Grand National
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The Independent Online
Being sane and sober might seem unlikely credentials to carry into the Grand National - particularly for punters - but Avro Anson will at Aintree next week because his trainer planned it that way even before the horse's birth.

Maurice Camacho has not only trained Avro Anson throughout his seven- year racing career, he bred him too. And when picking a partner for the gelding's dam, the hot-headed sprinting mare Tremellick, it was a calming influence that was deemed to be crucial.

"I was taken to see Ardross, the Ascot Gold Cup winner, in his box at stud," Camacho recalls. "Franca Vittadini [the former amateur rider] had care of him and she just got up on him, a working stallion, in his box. It was remarkable. I've never seen a stallion so calm. She was able to lead him out in just a head-collar.

"I said to myself then 'I've got a mate for you'. You've got to have them sane and sober to start with."

The long-term planning might be ready to pay off at Aintree, but it has not always been smooth progress along the path to the great steeplechase. Avro Anson, a top-class staying hurdler, provided Camacho with the greatest thrill but also the greatest disappointment of his career when veering off a straight line and being disqualified from first place in the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years ago.

"My stepfather [the trainer Charlie Hall] told me when I started as his assistant that if I couldn't face adversity then I was to get out. Well, I've been in this game for a long time now, but I was damned disappointed all the same."

Camacho, 52 has indeed been in the business for some time, having taken out a training licence at his stables at Malton, North Yorkshire, 22 years ago. First, though, his stepfather "sent me to Timeform'', where he did four years as a comment writer for that respected firm's publications, witnessing the exploits of such great chasers as Arkle, Flyingbolt and Mill House.

A colleague at the Halifax-based firm, Brian Skirton, defected to the other side, setting up a small chain of bookmakers in Cornwall, but pledging also to have a horse in training with Camacho.

"He describes it as the worst thing he ever did," Camacho said yesterday, "but he's always had at least one horse with me and Avro Anson is one of them.

"I've always told Brian that this will be a really good horse when he matures, but he keeps asking me 'when is he going to mature then?' Well it's taken until he's nine but this is his time and we'll have him while he's 10, 11, 12, to show him at his best

"He's been a big, gawky horse with a large frame and he's only just started to fill it. But he's a hell of a lot stronger than last year. Now he really fills your eye. He's a very handsome horse."

Despite only now reaching maturity, Avro Anson, who has been in training with Camacho since his two-year-old days, has won on the Flat, over hurdles and now over fences - picking up over pounds 100,000 over obstacles.

"He lacks experience - not racing, but chasing," Camacho said. "He's had just six races over fences, but the only time he's been out of the first two was when he parted company with Peter Niven last time. But he's been over the big fences at Haydock and round the Mildmay course at Aintree, which is a very quick track, and his jumping is not a problem.

"I had his brothers and sisters and none of them needed much work so I'm not worried that he's had just the two outings this year. I've trained him for this time of the year and I don't think I've ever had him in better form."

The rain which fell at Aintree yesterday has still left the ground no softer than good, which suits Camacho and Avro Anson. "I'll be a happy man if it stays dry between now and Saturday week," Camacho said. "But it's old turf, it never gets very wet, very poached.

"I'll be even happier if Mr [Kim] Bailey leaves in the top weight, Master Oats, to keep the weights down. Then we'll be meeting some of these good horses at just about level weights instead of having to give them a few pounds."

Skirton, now semi-retired as a bookmaker, has a passion for old aeroplanes, hence the name Avro Anson. Grand National day is usually one when the bookies can cheer en masse, whatever the result, but this year there will be one set apart from his colleagues. His hopes are more than just a flight of fancy.