To racing fans it would come as no surprise if Rachael Blackmore or Bryony Frost became the first female jockey to win the Randox Grand National on April 10th. However, Tabitha Worsley is hoping her “once in a lifetime” horse, Sub Lieutenant, can ensure it is her name which is etched in the record books at Aintree.
If one result in this year’s renewal of the world’s most famous steeplechase has the potential for a script good enough for a Hollywood blockbuster then victory for Sub Lieutenant, who is trained by Worsley’s mum Georgie Howell, is surely it.
With a string of only half a dozen horses to her name, the Tenbury Wells handler, together with her daughter, will take on the likes of Jump Racing powerhouses Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson in the most iconic race of them all - a true David vs Goliath clash.
Despite Sub Lieutenant being in the twilight of his career at the age of 12, the two-time Grade Two winner has shown he retains plenty of ability in both runs since joining Howell and it has given Worsley plenty of enthusiasm ahead of her career-defining first ride in the race.
The 26 year old said: “It would be unbelievable if we could win it, but we were saying the other day we would celebrate if me and Sub Lieutenant could make it to the flag-fall as that in itself is so tricky. He is a little bit wild and fresh at home but that is a sign he is in good form.
“He has got some good back form as he has finished second to Un De Sceaux in a Ryanair, and was second in a Topham over the fences while he has spent most of his life running in Graded races.
“We still have just under two weeks to go but everything is going the right way at the moment. If we can get round I would be absolutely over the moon. Anything above that I don’t dare think about it!
“To get round would be unbelievable for us as you are taking on the best of the best and we are just a tiny little yard. Little stories like this is what can make the race and draws the wider public in as well.”
The four and a quarter mile trip will no doubt suit Sub Lieutenant and so will the return to the unique Aintree fences, especially after the Brian Boru gelding impressed Worsley over replica ones during a schooling session at the Jockey Club Estates training grounds at Lambourn on Sunday.
She said: “The first time he ran for us was a fact-finding mission for us as we have a string of 0-100 horses and that is all he worked with, so we didn’t know where he was at.
“Last time he was flat out the whole way but he stayed all the way to the line, which hopefully suggests that the extended four and a quarter miles at Aintree will be right up his street.
“We took him down to Lambourn on Sunday morning to school over the Aintree-style fences and I was very pleased with him over them.”
Giving Worsley further optimism are words of encouragement she has received from Sub Lieutenant’s former trainer Henry de Bromhead and Grade One winning rider Blackmore, who partnered him to finish second on his previous outing over the fences in the 2019 Randox Topham Handicap Chase.
She explained: “I was riding out for Henry all of Cheltenham week this year so I found out a bit more about him. He said he is such a fun horse to have about and he is a lovely horse. He said he can see him running a really nice race so let’s hope he isn’t wrong.
“I asked Rachael about him when I was riding out for Henry and she said if you think he jumps a normal fence well, then wait until you get him over one of those Aintree fences.
“She said he won’t travel between the fences but as soon as he is in those wings he just lights up so that filled me with a lot of excitement as well.”
It can often take time for a rider to build up an affiliation with a horse but in the case of University of Birmingham graduate Worsley it was a love at first sight with Sub Lieutenant.
She added: “David Phelan helps us a lot with buying our horses and we sent him the criteria and he was on both his and the list we had put together at the Goffs Horses In Training Sale. However, both of us had him down as ‘won’t afford’ as we thought he would go for a lot.
“We pulled him out and trotted him out and the second he pulled out of the stables he just had that touch of class about him. He had that little bit of presence and we just fell instantly in love with him - but we still thought we wouldn’t afford him!
“We got to £40,000 and David said ‘you will get this with one or two more bids’. We deliberated for a while but we thought ‘this is a once in a lifetime horse for us to buy’, so we went to £50,000 to get him as we knew he would take us on some big days.”
Plenty of those riding in this year’s Grand National will never have tasted victory over the famous fences. However, Worsley has course form of her own, having partnered Top Wood to glory in the 2019 Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase - 17 months after breaking her back.
She said: “He was unbelievable as it came just over a year after I broke my back. We hadn’t schooled him over the Aintree fences but he was very clever and he just came down to the first couple and I knew he would just take to it.
“The further he went the better he got and he was tough up the run-in. He was just a legend that day. It will take some doing to top that but if Sub Lieutenant can finish in the top five in the National I think it would come close.”
The former county hockey player requires just one winner to eclipse her 2018-19 seasonal best total of seven and she admits she would happily wait for that moment to arrive at Aintree on April 10th.
She added: “I only need one more for it to be my best National Hunt season. My mum said she doesn’t mind if my next winner is Aintree and to be honest I don’t either!
“If it means waiting to Aintree and the Grand National to ride that winner then I will take it as it really would be the icing on the cake.”