OF all jockey Jonathan England’s rides in his career, few have give him greater satisfaction than Distime’s spin over the Grand National fences last December.
A staying-on third, the result was sufficient for Distime to qualify for today’s Crabbie’s Topham Chase over the world-famous Aintree course.
Trained by the rider’s fiancée Samantha Drake, who only received her licence in January, and owned by her parents Richard and Janet, who run the family farm at Guiseley, the whole family are relishing the chance to compete against the all-conquering Willie Mullins, who saddles two runners, Blood Cotil and Turban, in the race.
As well as Distime, who was a bargain buy at Doncaster Sales, Yorkshire is represented by Sue and Harvey Smith’s Mr Moonshine, who has lined up in two Nationals previously, and Rathlin from the Middleham yard of Micky Hammond.
However, England is just thrilled to have the chance to compete over the National fences at a time when so many top jockeys are struggling to get rides at the North’s premier National Hunt meeting.
“You work all year for days like this,” he told The Yorkshire Post after an anxious wait yesterday morning before it was confirmed that Distime had made the 30-runner cut and squeaked in at the bottom of the handicap.
“It will a bit more competitive than the Sefton, but I will ride him the same way – hope for a clear round and take it from there.
“If we are still there at the business end of the race, we will give it a go. It’s a big race and it’s great to be involved. I can’t wait. The soft ground will also help”
With opportunities for riders and trainers hard to come by in a sport increasingly dominated by the big battalions, victory for Distime would be one for the romantics – and also help England and his wife-to-be to pay for their upcoming wedding.
The headline act on day two of the National meeting is the Mullins-trained Vautour, who was a dazzling winner of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival and is another big race ride for Ruby Walsh.
Having returned from Cheltenham in fine fettle, Vautour is expected to secure a sixth Grade One victory in the JLT Melling Chase over two-and-a-half miles.
Tipped to be a future Gold Cup winner, Patrick Mullins, the trainer’s son and assistant, said: “If he does what he did at Cheltenham he will be hard to beat.”