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12th April 2024 Aintree


 Friday 12th April

Ladies Day at the Randox Grand National concluded with Alder Hey Handicap Hurdle which saw a dramatic from last to first performance by 40-1 outsider El Jefe. The seven-year-old was partnered by Ben Smith and is trained in Carluke, Scotlnd, by Andrew Hamilton.

Andrew Hamilton said: “It is fantastic. I was just worried it was drying out too much for him because he loves the heavy ground, but when I went out there and walked it, it was still pretty soft.

“Ben’s dad (Mike) and I are best pals, and I put Ben on him because I’ve been watching him. He has only had a few rides, but he has been riding really well. He rode in a race at Musselburgh last week, and I said ride the same race and just sit and wait as they will go too fast, and you can’t go that fast, but he will still be finishing it at the end. He was class and like a professional.

“Last night somebody said he was 66-1, and I couldn’t believe he was that price. We were at Carlisle a few weeks ago, and we went a bit early there, and Skycutter beat us.

“I thought we were not going to be too far off Skycutter, and he proved it. He is a sound wee horse.

“The Haydock race was a good day, but he is that sound he can run every couple of weeks. He loves his racing.

“The last day he ran he didn’t run as good, but he made a mistake so I forgave him for that, and we maybe ran him a bit quick as it was only a week after his previous run. He will get a wee holiday now.

“This is my first runner at Aintree, and it is unbelievable. I said to Ben when he was going out just hang on to him, and don’t go too early as we can nick something don't you worry about it, and we definitely nicked something.

“I’m going to a showjumping show in Fife tomorrow. I’ve got to get home then leave home at 6am in the morning. I’ll maybe have half a beer to celebrate!”

18-year-old Ben Smith said: “I can’t even put it into words - it’s unbelievable. I only got my licence in December and if you’d have told me I’d have a ride at this meeting, I’d have told you that you were delusional, let alone to have a winner. I can’t believe it. I can’t thank Andrew enough for letting me ride him. It’s my first outside ride, and to do it in a race like that, it’s unbelievable for him to give me the opportunity. I have to thank my Dad [Mike Smith] and all the team at home from my side of things for getting me into this position - they’ve done a lot of work as well. I cannot believe it!

“Pretty much from the stage of starting to ride out it was inevitable I’d become a jockey - just the thrill of it. I naturally progressed to point-to-points, had about a season and a half pointing and 21 or 22 rides and three winners, which I had great fun doing, and from then it was all about the next stage, that’s all I was looking forward to. I got my conditional licence at the end of last year and I haven’t wanted to look back since.

“Without Dad I wouldn’t have any of it. He is the one that trains the horses at home and he sourced me some great horses to go pointing with, which taught me a lot. It’s a perfect stepping stone to this sort of thing. Then he’s had the horses to give me experience under Rules as well. I think that’s my 19th ride today, so all 18 before this have been for my Dad, and four winners, so he’s been really good to me, again sourcing some pretty shrewd purchases, some cheap horses which have done really well for us.

“He drove me down today - he wasn't going to let anyone else bring me!

“This is the first ride I have had for Andrew, but he and my Dad have always been very close friends, through showjumping as well, and I’ve always been quite close to Andrew. He gave me this opportunity today and I can’t thank him enough.

“I knew a lot about this horse’s run style because I would always watch Andrew’s horses, and he said, stick to that rail, they are going to go flat out early, we know that, it’s a conditional jockeys’ race, so just try and hold on to him. He’s very much a bridle horse - you don’t want to be squeezing along for no reason, you want to hold on to him for as long as you can. That’s basically what I did. From turning in I thought, this is going to be a long way home, and we’ve got a good three-and-a-half-hour car drive home, I thought, oh no, then I jumped the third-last and began to give him a little squeeze without really getting thrown in, and he’s just taken off. Before the last I thought, I’m going to be in the first three at least, and he just took off. He was unbelievable. His jumping was really good. I just had to trust the horse, hold on for as long as I could and when I felt the time was right, send him on and see how close I could get, and thankfully it was close enough.

“Once I crossed the line I didn’t know what was happening! I couldn’t believe it - the emotions. I had to get off because he had a loose shoe which we needed to pull off, and I thought I was going to be sick! Just the emotions were everywhere. I can’t explain it.

“This is my first winner away from Ayr, my local track. I’ve never even been to a major festival, even spectating, so to have my first ride here at one of these major festivals, I cannot put it into words.”


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