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Article 18th January 2023 Warwick

By Graham Clark

Jockey Stan Sheppard admits he has only just come down to Earth following his victory in the Wigley Group Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick on Saturday (January 14th) aboard Iwilldoit, who he hopes will now provide him with a first-ever ride in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday 15th April.

The Ledbury-based rider celebrated his most valuable victory of the season on Saturday in the Premier Handicap when steering the 12-1 chance to glory on his first outing since the pair teamed up to secure the 2021 Welsh Grand National 383 days ago.

Despite having a lengthy absence to overcome the gelded son of Flying Legend made light work of testing conditions in the three miles and five furlongs feature prize when prevailing by two and three quarter lengths to maintain his unbeaten record under Sheppard. 

Iwilldoit will now run in either the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on February 11th or the Betfair Ascot Chase on February 18th in order to qualify for the Aintree showpiece, which requires all horses to have run in at least six races over fences by February 19th.

While neither Sheppard, nor Iwiildoit, has any previous experience over the famous Grand National fences, the 25 year old rider is confident that the Diamond Racing-owned gelding would equip himself well in the race should he make an appearance in it.

Sheppard said: “It felt great winning on Saturday and I definitely noticed the bigger crowd this time compared to when hardly anyone was there for the Welsh Grand National which was held behind closed doors due to Covid. 

“I’d say I’ve just about come back down to earth now. I went to the gym on Monday and that put me back in my place. 

“I believe Aintree is now the plan and that there are two races in mind, the Denman Chase over three miles at Newbury and the Ascot Chase over two miles five.

“He literally only needs to get around in either race as he has to have six runs over fences to qualify for the Grand National.

“Somebody I play cricket with said your horse is like fifth favourite for the National which is quite exciting and pretty mega. 

“I’ve never ridden over the Grand National fences and it is the one thing on my list that I want to do.

“I definitely think he would be fine over those fences. It was only his fifth run over fences on Saturday and he jumped better than he probably did both times I rode him at Chepstow. 

“I also don’t think he needs particularly heavy ground. As long as it is not quick in the Grand National, he will be fine.”

Luck can often be the difference between victory and defeat but Sheppard was fairly optimistic from a long way out that it was going to take a good one to stop the 10 year old from making a triumphant return. 

He added: “I got to a point down the back straight where I thought he was clearly fit enough as he has got me this far and that is when I started to get a bit excited. 

“He had a good look when he hit the front but I thought there was no point waiting around and hanging on. The few lengths I gained turning for home in the end probably won him the race. 

“He picked up coming to the last, which he jumped okay, then he quickened up which surprised me. 

“I could see the big screen out of the corner of my eye and the crowd started to get louder.

“There is no better feeling as a jockey when you are five strides from the line knowing you are going to win.

“It is a big old walkway at Warwick and the crowd were giving me plenty of cheers on the way back.

“Most of the members in the syndicate that own him couldn’t be there for the Welsh Grand National so I got a good cheer from them as well.”

While Sheppard will take the plaudits for the ride on Iwiildoit, he was quick to praise Grade One-winning jockey-turned trainer, Sam Thomas for getting him in terrific order for his comeback run.

He added: “It was an incredible training performance by Sam. They said before the race he had galloped at home on Thursday and they were all really happy with him.

“The horse was spot on and they couldn’t have had him any better. 

“If he was to have won a two-mile chase after that lay off it would have still been a great training performance, but to win a race like that over three miles five on heavy ground after more than a year from his last run takes some doing.”

Warwick sponsor The Wigley Group is offering a £100,000 bonus this season if the Classic Chase winner goes on to success in the Randox Grand National. One For Arthur in 2017 landed both contests.



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