NORTH Yorkshire rider Brian Hughes warmed up for a spare ride in tomorrow’s Crabbie’s Grand National by partnering the outsider Surf And Turf to an unexpected victory in the Betfred Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree.
Hughes was left without a ride in the big race when his intended mount, the Dianne Sayer-trained Baileys Concerto, failed to make the 40-runner cut after final declarations – surprisingly there were no defections.
However, the jockey was snapped up by Cotswolds trainer Charlie Longsdon to ride Ely Brown, a former winner of Wetherby’s Grade Two Towton Novices’ Chase, in the National.
And, in a further boost to the in-form Hughes, the success of the Kevin Frost-trained Surf And Turf took the rider onto the 98-winner mark for the campaign and just two successes short of a much-deserved century.
Hughes, currently fifth in the jockeys’ standings, likes to play down the significance of such milestones and instead credit trainers like Frost who was an assistant to Ian Williams before setting up his own operation at Alcester near Stratford.
“Kevin spotted this horse when he was with Jonjo [O’Neill]. A small yard suits him. He won round here in May and we half tongue-in-cheek said we’d bring him back for this race,” said Hughes, with the attention to detail that has become his hallmark.
“For a small yard it’s nice to have a horse good enough to be at this meeting. He travelled all the way round and jumped brilliantly; I probably got there a bit soon – he had a good look at the last, but jumped it and off we went.
“Last time I rode him we were second to Parsnip Pete here in October and I thought we were a bit unlucky that day – probably not to win but to be beaten so far. I’m delighted for Kevin and Amanda – me and Kevin go back a long way. When I was conditional at Alan Swinbank’s at Richmond in North Yorkshire, Kevin was head lad. He’s a tremendous horseman, as you can see, and can do the job as good as anyone.”
As for the trainer, he was almost overcome by the occasion. “It’s amazing for such a small yard like ours,” admitted Frost.
“I’m lost for words a little bit. He’s done us proud. We picked him up at the sales very cheaply. When I first started training, he was bought as a horse who might win us a seller and get us off the mark but he’s done nothing but improve all the time.
“Brian wanted to run him here. He loves him – they go together like strawberries and cream. It’s his type of horse as he doesn’t like being knocked around. It was a great ride.”
Meanwhile, officials were watering the Aintree track last night so the ground does not become too quick for racing today and tomorrow under sun-soaked skies – they want to keep the going at good to soft (good in places).
Clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch said: “It’s been a dry and warm day and the forecast is for continuing dry weather. As a consequence, we need to water to maintain the going description.”