The Grand National: Anson the key to Julie and the crown

When Maurice Camacho handed over the reins to his daughter, a National dream was waiting to be realised; Andrew Longmore visits a family yard where new ambition blends with old- world values
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IT is Camacho with a pronounced "o", as in macho, not the West Indian version which softens the ending, like Camarsh. If Avro Anson does the decent thing in the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, the nation's newest trainer will not mind what anyone calls her. She will be a household name, either way.

Smoothie Des will be in his element. "Now, Julie, this is your first winner," he will purr. "Quite a way to start, what?" And the moustache will twitch and the eyebrows dance and a bright-eyed 31-year-old lass from North Yorkshire will blush to the roots and claim it was nothing to do with her and racing will hail a victory for the nice guys because the Camacho family have survived in a tough old world with their values and enjoyment intact. That rather than the number of winners in the stable have marked out their importance. The Camachos' idea of an old-fashioned betting coup, a pounds 1 win on a horse at Newcastle, was hampered by the fact that no one knew how to fill in the betting slip.

Julie Camacho, the eldest of four and the only girl, took over the Malton yard from her father Maurice on New Year's Day. She travelled down to the Jockey Club, filled in the diagram on the horse correctly ("What is this bit called?") and answered a few questions about her finances. In return, after an official inspection of the family yard, they gave her a trainer's licence and a passport to round-the-clock trouble. On the afternoon of 1 January, Avro Anson, curiously named after an old aeroplane, was grounded at Catterick. "The ground was bottomless and he hated it," Julie says. "Lorcan [Wyer, the jockey] was most apologetic because he knew it was my first runner."

The switch of authority was barely noticeable, from the outside at least. That is the way in small yards. One day, Julie was driving the horsebox and leading up the horses, the next she was just driving the horsebox. Nearly three months on, Miss J A Camacho - she is actually Mrs S Brown now, having married Luca Cumani's assistant, Steve Brown, in December but will train under her maiden name - is still a stride or two short of her first winner. The talented Alabang came second in the Lanzarote Hurdle; another of her 20-strong string has brought home place money on the all-weather at Southwell. It does not ease the mind that Maurice trained the winner of the Mackeson Gold Cup within a week of getting his licence longer ago than he cares to remember. He keeps quiet about it now.

Handing over the reins to his daughter has proved harder than he expected. He and his wife Sue disappeared for a month's holiday to ease the transition, but his influence within the household and the stable is still strong. The family is shuffling priorities, rearranging the emotional furniture. Maurice Camacho took over the yard from his stepfather, W A "Charlie" Hall, at the age of 31; he thought the time was right a generation later. Julie, who has already served an apprenticeship with Sally Hall and Willie Jarvis, wanted him to stay on for another year. "I'd seen too many fathers hang on for too long and I didn't want that," he says. "I thought it would be easy to say, 'Get on with it, Julie, it's your show now' and just keep a watching brief. We went away for a month in February and when we came back, I went straight back into the old routine until my wife said I should stand back a bit. Julie never said it."

As we talk, the phone rings. It is the Press Association wanting a quote about Avro Anson. "You'd better ask Julie, but she's not here at the minute," he says dutifully, putting the phone down. "I mean, I'm 53 and I'm not an invalid or anything, so it's been very difficult." He pauses.

"I also realised I was a second- division player. Training moderate horses for fiddling little races no longer held any appeal for me, to be honest. I've had good horses and the difference between racing them and racing scrubbers is so great, it began to pall for me. To train up here and be in the Premiership, you have to be exceptional and I wasn't."

It is a harsh assessment, but you suspect the truth is not quite so blunt. Camacho never quite had the breaks. Clear Cut, his best chaser, fell at the first when one of the favourites for the National; Avro Anson was disqualified after winning the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, a catastrophe dismissed with a verbal flick. "A bit of a blow," he says. A tall man with a languid, cultured air, his world was not confined to training winners. There was his beloved Yorkshire to watch and a bit of golf to play. Shorn of the daily chores, he worries now by proxy.

"Julie's going to have to be tough and be more pushy than she is. Most of the ladies who succeed in this game are pretty formidable. One of her problems is that she loves the horses too much; she suffers with them. Sometimes, she'll have to take a more detached view."

That Julie would love horses became fairly clear one hazardous night about 25 years ago. The Camachos owned a mare, who hated being brought inside at night. Often, they left her out. But a blizzard blew up overnight and Sue Camacho found her seven-year-old daughter out in the fields at near midnight coaxing the mare back inside. Julie had her own pony at six and was leading horses round the parade ring well before she was 16, the qualifying age for a stable pass. School was the uncomfortable bit, fitted in between morning and evening stables. A course at secretarial college ended after a week. Training horses was not so much an ambition as a birthright.

The weather will be critical to the fortunes of the Camachos and the home-bred family favourite on Saturday. Avro does not fancy a mudbath. But neither courage nor stamina is in doubt. Sixth in the Monday National last year was on the disappointing side of creditable - not least for the Mirror readers who had leased him for the day - until Peter Niven, his regular jockey, explained that a flying hoof had caught Avro in the head the fence before the Chair. An outing over a flat two and a quarter miles at Doncaster on Friday - he finished an impressive fourth - was a bizarre preparation for 30 fences and four and a half miles round Aintree, a tribute to Avro's versatility as much as Julie Camacho's lateral thinking. "A bit strange, I know," she admits. "But he's a lazy sod and we needed a race. I don't really care what anyone thinks about it. I've got quite a thick skin."

She will need every millimetre of it to survive, as her father is well aware. But it will be true to the romantic heritage of the National if Avro Anson did provide Julie Camacho with her first winner. "I can't afford to think about it," she says. "So many things can go wrong. But I'd like a winner, any winner."