Racing: Sherwood has a National natural in Praise

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The Independent Online
It was 1938 and Neville Chamberlain was waving around a piece of paper which he obviously believed was quite valuable. The more rewarding slips, however, belonged to the racing folk who had scribbled down the name of one of the more extraordinary Grand National winners.

When the deceptively named Battleship (he was barely 15 hands high) won at Aintree for Reg Hobbs it was with the trainer's 17-year-old son, Bruce, at the controls. It made Elizabeth Taylor and The Pie look like the art of the possible.

When Bruce went home for his celebratory jelly and custard it was to the Upper Lambourn yard of Rhonehurst. Sixty years on, it may be time for the old place to welcome back another Liverpool hero.

Him Of Praise has run only nine times in his life (including wins in the last five), but he appears to have Grand National branded on his backside. He jumps fences as if they are encrusted with broken glass and takes three miles merely to get into top gear. The Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase at Sandown on Saturday took only a thimble-full out of his well of stamina. "He is the classic National horse," Oliver Sherwood, Rhonehurst's present steward, said yesterday. "It's nice to have a good staying chaser like him in the yard because that's what the game is all about. I suppose we'll have to have a crack at the National now."

Him Of Praise emerged from his quarters yesterday morning doing all the normal physical jerks, but he will now be allowed some time off. The eight- year-old will probably have two more races before Aintree (where soft ground is a prerequisite for his participation), one at Uttoxeter and the other in the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock.

By then the Rhonehurst stable jockey will be back in action. Jamie Osborne broke his left wrist at Cheltenham in November, an accident that brought in his reserve, Jimmy McCarthy, from the wings. The 28-year-old Irishman took full advantage on Saturday. "It's great for him and I know he's thankful that the owners have given him the chance," Sherwood said. "He had opportunities a couple of years ago to go to a smaller yard as a No 1, but his decision was to stay as a No 2 in a bigger stable. He's never going to be a Jamie Osborne or a Richard Dunwoody, but he's a great understudy."

Sherwood himself knows what it is like to be a No 2, having assisted at several yards in his training education. He was chiselled largely though at Uplands by Fred Winter. The former champion amateur rider has held a training licence since the 1984-85 season. He has followed up wins at the Cheltenham Festival in the saddle with victories as a trainer.

Saturday's victory propelled Oliver Martin Carwardine Sherwood, to give him his full, glorious title, into the top 10 in the trainers' championship. It is a position he believes fitting for an operation which has expanded from 28 boxes to 70 since he took it over.

Rhonehurst has been disgorging winners for over 100 years (at the turn of the century, one of the area's foremost trainers, John Hallick, was the incumbent) and is now run by a forest of Sherwoods. The trainer apart, you can find his brother Simon, the fomer jockey and present business partner, wife Tarnya and three children about the place.

The absentees include good horses such as Welcome Call, Berude Not To and Aerion who were all expected to advertise their trainer's skills this season. Another animal has had quite a bathetic descent, and there are many who believe Large Action should now be retired after pulling up in three of his last four outings. His trainer, though, is not among them.

While the 10-year-old is not yet in the last-chance saloon he is definitely up the steps and heading for the swinging doors. "You've go to remember he was favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March and you can't lose it that much in nine months," Sherwood said. "There is no way this horse will continue racing if he goes on a downgrade. His owner would want to retire him at the top. He's showing all the right vibes at home, but the proof of the pudding is on the racecourse.

"Time will tell if his fighting capabilities are still there. I believe they are and there are still races to be won with him. Let's just hope he comes back and runs a big race so we can then go and have a crack at the Stayers' Hurdle. He's freshened up and now we're going for the Cleeve Hurdle [at Cheltenham] at the end of the month. That will be a turning point of his career."