AS a talented teenager from a famous family with the racing world at his feet, Andrew Tinkler made it look so easy when he finished sixth in his first Grand National a decade ago aboard the heroic Smarty.
However, the Malton-born rider knows, from personal experience, that there are no certainties in racing and has spent much of the past 10 years establishing himself as one of champion trainer Nicky Henderson’s team of stable jockeys.
And he hopes this longevity – and loyalty – will be rewarded tomorrow when he partners Hunt Ball in the £1m Crabbie’s Grand National.
This will be Tinkler’s seventh ride in the race after the final declarations for the 40-runner field, headed by the veteran Tidal Bay and former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run, were confirmed yesterday.
They saw 18-time champion jockey AP McCoy opt to ride the JP McManus-owned Double Seven, now the subject of a sustained public gamble, after days of soul-searching by the record-breaking rider, who won the 2010 renewal on Don’t Push It.
However, the withdrawal of Lost Glory, also owned by McManus, enabled Swing Bill – last year’s sixth – to make the cut at the 11th hour.
Trained by David Pipe, he runs in the colours of Crabbie’s parent company Halewood International, whose Amberleigh House prevailed from, among others, the Tinkler-ridden Smarty in 2004.
It means Saltburn’s Keith and James Reveley still require three horses to be withdrawn by 10am today – a very unlikely proposition – if their dual Doncaster winner Night In Milan is to make the National line-up as a third reserve.
At least Tinkler has a chance to prepare for tomorrow’s race – he only acquired the ride on the Willie Mullins-trained The Midnight Club in the 2012 National minutes before the off after Ruby Walsh suffered a serious injury in the preceding race.
He rode Hunt Ball, a prolific winner with Keiran Burke before being sold by owner Anthony Knott to a consortium to race, unsuccessfully as it transpired, in the USA, to a creditable third place in the Grade One Ascot Chase behind the consistent Captain Chris and Sue Smith’s Cloudy Too.
He has schooled the horse, one of four Henderson runners in the National, over Aintree-style fences at Lambourn, an exercise that has given Tinkler grounds for optimism despite Hunt Ball being saddled with 11st 7lb – the third highest weight in the field.
“He seems to have taken to the fences very well,” the jockey told The Yorkshire Post. “He gave them plenty of respect and he’s a nice ride to have. The question that hangs over him is his stamina – his best form has been over two and a half miles – but you don’t know until you try.
“Even though they have taken the fences down a little bit, we are still going to need a bit of luck on our side.
“But he was the fastest-climbing horse in the handicap in the 2011-12 season, before being sold and going to America, and he’s run two nice races since coming back from the US.
“The handicapper hasn’t taken a chance with him, and that is not going to help me, but plenty of people have given him an each-way chance and I hope they’re right.”
Thereis a fascinating sub-plot to tomorrow’s National because Henderson needs to win the race to have any chance of retaining his trainer’s title from a resurgent Paul Nicholls.
Henderson’s best result was actually in 1979 when Zongalero, his first runner, was a gallant second to Rubstic.
Yet Tinkler, whose father Colin and uncle Nigel were jump jockeys, is mature enough to see the bigger picture. He is one of several top jockeys who will be visiting Alder Hey Children’s Hospital this morning to spend time with seriously ill youngsters.
“Yes, the National is our only chance if we’re to keep the championship,” said Tinkler, who will ride Tanks For That over the National fences today in the Topham Trophy.
“From a team point of view, we have lost some of our stars. Sprinter Sacre has well-documented problems, Simonsig has never started.
“But there are a lot of people in a worse off position than us – and we need to remember that. You can do as much homework as you can for the National, but your plans can go out of the window at the very first fence.”
Intriguingly, Tinkler has been left very impressed by Long Run’s schooling over the National fences in Lambourn.
He says the new-style Aintree fences will suit the jumping style of the 2011 Gold Cup winner who has lost his way this season.
“The horse has also become a bit of a grinder so the trip won’t be a problem,” added Tinkler, who is convincing in his belief that Long Run has been written off prematurely.
Then there is the horse’s amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen, whose record over the Aintree fences is second to none.
Yesterday’s victory on Warne in the Fox Hunters’ Chase was the Corinthian’s fourth victory from 17 career starts over the National course. He has also been placed on five occasions, including Oscar Time’s creditable fourth to Sue Smith’s Auroras Encore in last year’s National.
Warne, trained in Downpatrick by Brian Hamilton and owned by the jockey’s father Robert, jumped beautifully at the head of affairs.
Hot favourite Mossey Joe and last year’s winner Tartan Snow, now 14, closed up on the home bend, but Warne kicked away to take the prize by 13 lengths in the Long Run colours.
The win was especially poignant because the jockey’s first success in 2004 aboard Katarino came in the aftermath of his younger brother Thomas’s death from cancer.
“When we won the race with Katarino there was no actual trophy for the owners, so we decided to give something in memory of Thomas and we’ve been trying to win it back ever since,” said Waley-Cohen.
His great friend Andrew Tinkler would concur with this sentiment. Racing can be very trivial – even in Grand National week.