A former polo groom who begged her boss to allow her to train a point-to-pointer paid him back in spades when saddling Top Wood to win today's Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase in his colours.g
The boss in question, Johnny Weatherby, chairman of racing administrators Weatherbys, and The Queen's representative at Ascot, was at Aintree
to witness his Top Wood, trained by Kelly Morgan and ridden by Tabitha Worsley, land the £45,000 race.
Top Wood (14/1) who has been placed in the two most recent runnings of the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham, brought his stamina to bear when rallying after the Elbow to regain the lead from runner-up Burning Ambition (11/2) and win by two lengths. A further 11 lengths back in third was Road To Riches (20/1).
Morgan, who is based at a yard owned by Weatherby near Oakham in Rutland, is the sister of another licensed trainer, Laura. Their brother, Tommy, is a talented trainer of pointers, while their father, Kevin, also trained.
The winning trainer had barely any sleep last night after it was discovered Top Wood suffered a stone bruise yesterday - her night-time vigil involved bathing his foot in buckets of ice.
She said of Top Wood: "People have called him a monkey in the past, but he's not. He's incredibly brave and really stuck his neck out today. I could barely watch the finish. He jumped the first two and got into a bit of a rhythm - he's the type of horse who you know early in a race how he's going, and if he's jumping and travelling he will be hard to beat.
"Straight after Cheltenham we decided to come here. He's 12 now so what did we have to lose? When it started raining today everyone was running from it, but I was virtually dancing in it. He loves the soft ground and the more rain that fell, the more I felt he could go well.
"We got to know Tabitha two years ago when she took a spare ride for us on Decade Player at High Easter and won on him. I'd looked her up and thought she looked like a good rider and our association has grown from there. Today I just said 'get a good start, let him pop away and see if he's enjoying it'.
"He's such a strong traveller, but everybody seemed to think we were mad to drop him down in trip. I never had that in mind and pointed out that he seems to get everything off the bridle at Cheltenham. He travels that strongly and he's not a slow horse - the only question was whether he would take to the fences. The other horse [Burning Ambition] came to him, but I knew our horse would be as brave as a lion and wouldn't go down without a fight.
"I started at Johnny's seven years ago as a part-time polo groom. At that time Johnny had a few pointers with a guy just up the road and one day I said to him, 'Can I train a couple - why can't I have a couple at home?'. He laughed and put it off for a year, then one day he said, 'You can train and ride old Valance, and I'll have a bit of fun with that,' and it went from there. He won first time out with me on board - that was about five years ago.
"We have just five horses in, all owned by Johnny. I took out a full licence in October."
Weatherby said: "It's unbelievable - that was a fantastic training performance by Kelly, and Tabitha gave him a great ride."
BROKEN BACK NO BAR TO SUCCESS FOR WORSLEY ON FIRST AINTREE RIDE
Tabitha Worsley enjoyed a dream first ride over the Grand National fences when partnering last month's Cheltenham Festival
third Top Wood (14/1) to success in the prestigious Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase less than 18 months after breaking her back in a fall in a handicap hurdle at Ludlow.
Worsley, who is 24 and has had 26 winners in point-to-points and 14 now under Rules since cutting her teeth on the pony racing circuit, still has rods in her back and shoulder but they are clearly no hindrance and her rallying two-length win on the Kelly Morgan-trained winner came only 24 hours after she had won a handicap hurdle at Market Rasen for the trainer's sister Laura Morgan.
She said: "I got back from breaking my back about three months after the Ludlow fall and I was due to ride in a handicap chase here on National day last year but then broke my collar bone about a week before. So last year wasn't my year, but this year certainly is."
Worsley, who is the fifth female rider to win the Foxhunters' and walked the course in the morning with former jockey Brian Harding, added: "The rods will probably stay in forever, but they don't stop me. They were always quite upbeat after my injury, and although they said it would be six months I worked towards three months.
"It's unbelievable to win here, and so good to reward them (the Morgan sisters and owner Johnny Weatherby) for sticking by me through all my injuries. To reward them on a stage like this is really special."
Of Top Wood, she said: "He gave me a dream ride, and although Burning Ambition went past me quite quickly I could feel him start to fight again, then once he got rolling I was always confident he would get back to him.
"He's a little legend. He's not very big but he has a lot of heart. He's a game little horse and he's a nippy little horse. You don't get too many feelings like that. There's only the Cheltenham race that's bigger (for an amateur)."
O'CONNOR HAS AMBITIONS FOR NEXT YEAR
Connections of 11/2 shot Burning Ambition, second in the Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase by two lengths to Top Wood, were delighted with the Scorpion eight-year-old's performance.
Trainer Pierce Power said: "Hats off to the winner - he was top-class. But we are thrilled with our lad. He took to it great, jumped brilliantly. This is more his thing - a flat track - than Cheltenham [he finished eighth in the 2018 Foxhunter there], and we've had a great day out, which is what is most important!"
Power is first cousin to jockey Robbie Power, who collared the previous race, the Betway Aintree Hurdle, aboard Supasundae.
Pierce Power said: "I'd say that's our biggest problem next year, keeping Burning Ambition out of the Topham - Robbie wants him for the Topham!"
Derek O'Connor, rider of Burning Ambition and winner of the 2018 Randox Health Foxhunters' on Balnaslow, said: "The winner is a worthy winner. We passed him on the Elbow and he fought back and won the race fair and square. They are nice, low-key connections who won the race and that's what this race is about - it's not about the big, flash trainers; it's for small, hard-working, country trainers and that's what they are.
"Burning Ambition will be some horse around here next year. It's his first time here - he's still a baby. If everything's right and we are back here next year, I'll be looking forward to riding him again."
Third was 20/1 chance Road To Riches, trained by David Christie and ridden by owner David Maxwell.
Maxwell said: "Road To Riches jumped like a buck. It was a great performance and he just kept on finding for me.He made one mistake, but he regained his stride and kept galloping all the way to the line.
"It was a great thrill and, for a 12-year-old, that was a great run."
4:05pm Randox Health Foxhunters' Open Hunters' Chase
2m 5f 19y
1 Top Wood (FR) v,ts 12 12 0 Kelly Morgan Mr Johnny Weatherby Miss Tabitha Worsley 14/1
2 Burning Ambition (IRE) 8 12 0 Pierce Michael Power Ireland
Tynan/MacLennan/Carthy/Shanahan/Magnier Mr Derek O'Connor 11/2
3 Road To Riches (IRE) ts, p 12 12 0 D. M. Christie Ireland Mr David Maxwell Mr David Maxwell 20/1
4 Coastal Tiep (FR) p 7 12 0 S. R. B. Crawford Northern Ireland Jetmac Syndicate Mr B. G. Crawford 50/1
5 Road To Rome (IRE) 9 12 0 J. J. O'Shea Mr Graham William Briscoe Mr Sam Waley-Cohen 11/4 Fav
6 Sir Jack Yeats (IRE) bl 8 12 0 Richard Spencer GOWING'S ELEVEN Mr James King 16/1
7 Greensalt (IRE) ts 11 12 0 W. H. Easterby Mrs Sarah Easterby Mr William Easterby 25/1
8 Kruzhlinin (GER) 12 12 0 Gordon Elliott Ireland Paul & Clare Rooney Mr Barry O'Neill 12/1
9 Balnaslow (IRE) p 12 12 0 Graham John McKeever Ireland Margaret A. Simpson Mr M. J. O'Hare 25/1
10 Just Cause (IRE) 9 12 0 J. P. Owen Mr T. C. O. Gredley Mr Jack Andrews 100/1
11 Never Complain (IRE) ts, p 11 12 0 Mrs F. Marshall Glebe House Racing Club Mr Charlie Marshall 100/1
12 Mr Mercurial (IRE) ts 11 12 0 Will Ramsay Mr Will Ramsay Mr Will Ramsay 33/1
PU BEF 2 OUT Asockastar (IRE) p 11 12 0 Daniel John Bourne Mr Daniel John Bourne Mr P. W. Mullins 50/1
PU 5 Bear's Affair (IRE) 13 12 0 Philip Rowley Mr G. B. Barlow Mr Alex Edwards 25/1
PU 2 OUT Champagne West (IRE) ts, p 11 12 0 T. M. Frost Knowle Racing Stables Limited Miss Lilly Pinchin 50/1
PU 14 Crazy Jack (IRE) p 11 12 0 Mrs A. R. Hewitt Mrs Denise Butler Mr Gillon Crow 66/1
PU 2 OUT Dineur (FR) ts 13 12 0 Mickey Bowen Mr Gwilym J. Morris Mr Peter Bryan 33/1
PU 2 OUT Gallery Exhibition (IRE) ts 12 12 0 P. W. Mason Somerset Racing Mr Guy Disney 100/1
UR 15 Mr Mix (FR) 8 12 0 S. C. Robinson S C Robinson & Mrs C Gilsenan Mr Stuart Robinson 20/1
PU 2 OUT Numbercruncher (IRE) 13 12 0 David O'Brien Mr David O'Brien Mr Theo Gillard 100/1
PU 7 Pass The Hat ts 12 12 0 Miss Sarah Rippon Ms S. K. Baharuddin Miss Sarah Rippon 40/1
FELL 10 Seefood (IRE) 12 12 0 Justin Landy Mr I. P. Crane Miss Charlotte Crane 16/1
PU 2 OUT Shantou Magic (IRE) 12 12 0 Will Ramsay Mr Will Ramsay Mr Nick Phillips 100/1
PU 2 OUT Shimla Dawn (IRE) 11 12 0 Mrs C. Drury Mr Paul Drury Miss Emma Todd 66/1
UR 14 Starkie ts 12 12 0 Anthony Ward-Thomas Mr Anthony Ward-Thomas Mr Martin McIntyre 100/1
PU 7 Ucello Conti (FR) ts 11 12 0 Gordon Elliott Ireland Mr Simon Munir/Mr Isaac Souede Mr J. J. Codd 4/1
PU 11 Wonderful Charm (FR) ts, p 11 12 0 Paul Nicholls RJH Geffen, Sir J Ritblat, R Waley-Cohen Mr William Biddick 16/1
TIME: 5m 45.70s
DISTANCES: 2, 11, 4, 6, 9, 2¼, 23, 27, 8, 3, 22
TOTE WIN: £16.50 PLACES: £4.90; £2.40; £5.50
The Worshipful Company of Farriers in conjunction with the Aintree Executive and The Jockey Club created a best-shod award in 2016 for each of the three races over the Grand National fences - the first time such an award had ever been presented on a racecourse in the world.
The award is in recognition of the farrier's skill in shoeing and preparation of the horse's feet, all of which contributes to the welfare of the horse which to everyonr in the racing industry is of the utmost priority:
The winner of this prestigious award for the 2019 Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase is
15 Never Complain
OWNED BY; The Glebe House Racing Club
FARRIER; James Hayter (co-owner)
TRAINER; Mrs F Marshall