HARVEY Smith was in irrepressible form as he paraded his Grand National hero Auroras Encore with his wife Sue after a win that he described as the “pinnacle” of his lifetime working with horses.
“When I was an 11-year-old boy I broke my arm coming off my bike and I was in Keighley hospital where they gave me anaesthetic,” the 74-year-old regaled reporters at his stables on Baildon Moor.
“I came round and the nurse gave me a sick bowl, I immediately put it on my head. They all asked what I was doing and I said ‘I’ve just won the Grand National’. I didn’t know it would take nearly 65 years.”
It was the beginning of a special affinity with horses – he would deliver milk carried by ponies as a boy – before becoming an acclaimed showjumper and then becoming a racehorse trainer with his wife 23 years ago.
“People have asked how this compares with showjumping, but I like to look forward so this is the best and I hope there’s more to come. I’ll have to keep going to 100 now!” he added.
“I’ve had a good life with horses. We started messing about with racehorses over 20 years ago and got sucked into it. It keeps you young and I won’t be retiring.
“I was chatting to another trainer the other day and his father always said there’s two chairs that will kill you – the electric chair and the armchair.”
Smith is at one with his horse as they pose for the traditional post-Aintree photographs before Auroras Encore, a remarkably placid animal, walks across Baildon Moor to the Dick Hudson pub to meet wellwishers.
“Good lad,” he says to the 11-year-old before Auroras Encore poses for a striking photo alongside the Smiths with winning jockey Ryan Mania on a statue of a stag.
The jockey is then told to “get his head down and get winning” before leaving for Hexham where his first ride since the National was to result in a hideous fall that saw him airlifted to hospital in Newcastle.
After the horse’s win, a weary Mania had been driven to his home town in the Scottish Borders.
“My local rugby team in Galashiels had their rugby sevens tournament and they phoned up and wanted me to pop in,” he said. “I was on the pitch with the team under the floodlights and the atmosphere was incredible – it meant so much to everyone.
“I got there at 10.20pm, I tried to go to bed but couldn’t sleep. I was just replaying the race in my head, and then I set off at 5.30am to get back down here. I think I slept for an hour. My dad Kevin is a highly-qualified joiner but is currently cleaning out big water tanks all over and my mum Leslie works for the Scottish Association of Mental Health. They’ve been wonderfully supportive.
“My phone hasn’t stopped. Text messages from friends I can reply to, but I’ve had thousands on Facebook and Twitter from people I don’t know.”
Eighteen months ago, Mania quit racing because of a lack of opportunities when Howard Johnson’s County Durham yard was closed on welfare grounds before he was persuaded to reconsider. “I was whipper-in for the Fife Hunt, but racing is where my heart is. Harvey (Smith) spotted me, he’s yet to tell me why!”
As for the Smiths, they enjoyed a pub meal after the race. There were no late-night celebrations. “We’re too old,” said Sue. Two of the racehorse’s owners, Douglas Pryde and Jim Beaumont, stayed at a B&B that run by the showjumper’s ex-wife. They were woken by peacocks shortly before 5am. Yet, like all those concerned with the horse, they had to pinch themselves at the remote surroundings still blanketed by snow, the fact that the Smiths had to improvise with the gallops during the cold weather and that they still trained Auroras Encore to perfection. The only people who had no doubts was Harvey Smith. “Look at Auroras,” added Smith.
“He doesn’t even look like he’s had a race. And isn’t it brilliant for Yorkshire?”
Comment: Page 10; National hero airlifted to hospital: Page 1, Sports Monday.