Grand National: Sam Coltherd staying grounded ahead of Aintree test

SAM COLTHERD couldn't believe it when he heard his father's horse Captain Redbeard had qualified for the £1m Randox Health Grand National.

Just 19, the jockey phoned the British Horseracing Authority to check his eligibility. And then he called again to make sure.

“You need to have 10 winners over fences. I phoned the first time – and they said that I qualified,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

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“They never gave me any statistics so I phoned them back a couple of days later and confirmed everything. That was a relief.”

The anticipation is self-evident. Even now, he’s unsure of the precise number. “Just three sleeps to go,” he said yesterday.

Yet, while Coltherd has ridden over Aintree’s world famous fences on two previous occasions and did well to stay aboard Ockey De Nuelliac at the last fence in 2016, he’s never even been to the Merseyside track on Grand National day. “I can’t wait,” he adds.

He means it. However, while the young professional will be one of the least experienced riders lining up in the biggest race in the world, he’s there on merit.

For, while he’s now conditional jockey at the High Eldwick yard of the 2013 National-winning team of Sue and Harvey Smith, home is in the Scottish Borders where his father Stuart – who owns and trains Captain Redbeard – and mother Lesley farm hundreds of acres of land.

Sam Coltherd at the High Eldwick yard of Sue and Harvey Smith.

And, unlike so many of the major National Hunt yards which have become slightly detached from the sport’s rural roots, this is a family-run operation near Selkirk where the farming, and lambing of 100 ewes, is as important as the training of 20 racehorses.

Their biggest success to date came five years ago when Tartan Snow won Aintree’s Foxhunters Chase over the National course, proof that the adverse weather experienced during a traditional Scottish winter can be overcome.

“Dad’s flat out lambing,” says Coltherd junior. “We’re very busy at home. We all chip in. We have one full-time shepherd and four full-time staff for the horses.”

It was inevitable that a riding career would beckon after his father became more involved in horses as a passing interest.

Sam Coltherd sits tight on Ockey De Nuelliac at the 2016 Grand National meeting.

“I always wanted to be a jockey. I had no interest in school,” says Coltherd, who draws inspiration from Ryan Mania, another proud son of the Borders, who famously won the 2013 National on the Smith-trained Auroras Encore. “My Dad has been my biggest influence. He’s supported me since day one. He started me off.”

His very first ride was a winning one when Darsi Dancer won a point-to-point race at Alnwick in December 2014. And the same horse provided him with his landmark first win under rules when landing a long-distance hurdle at Sedgefield the following October.

However, while unsung horses like Darsi Dancer are integral to any young rider’s career, it is Captain Redbeard’s progression which is taking his career to new heights.

A horse that Coltherd’s father tried to sell without success, wins at Wetherby and Haydock early last year preceded an eye-catching campaign this season which saw Captain Redbeard finish sixth in the Grand Sefton Chase over Aintree’s National fences despite being badly hampered.

Sam Coltherd at the High Eldwick yard of Sue and Harvey Smith.

However, a high-profile win a fortnight later in Haydock’s Tommy Whittle Chase confirmed this was a staying steeplechaser of some repute – and the form was franked when Coltherd and Captain Redbeard returned to the same track and chased home The Dutchman, another leading National contender, in the prestigious Peter Marsh Chase.

As such, Coltherd has been spending each evening watching replays of past Nationals and seeking the counsel of the Smiths’ stable jockey, Danny Cook.

“Enjoy it and embrace it,” advises Cook. His young protégé also draws encouragement from the experience of the redoubtable showjumping legend Smith.

“Harvey and Sue are great. Harvey tells me to be positive. He’s very good at teaching you how to ride young horses,” says Coltherd, who credits his agent, and family friend, Bruce Jeffrey for getting him the job at the leading West Yorkshire yard.

However, while Coltherd’s older sister Amy, 20, will lead up Captain Redbeard on National day, and their proud father will watch from the stands, the young jockey’s mother will probably not be in the sell-out 70,000 crowd.

“She gets nervous. She’ll just be outside the house. The TV will be on very loud and she’ll go in after the last,” says Coltherd.

Sam Coltherd sits tight on Ockey De Nuelliac at the 2016 Grand National meeting.

And hopefully with Captain Redbeard still in contention...