Trevor Hemmings' absence will be felt at Aintree showpiece this weekend

As the anticipation grows for this year’s Randox Grand National, there is no doubting that there will be one huge void in the parade ring come 5pm on Saturday.

By Nick Seddon
Friday, 8th April 2022, 4:45 pm

It will certainly feel strange to be at Aintree without former Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings, who very much made the race his own in the past 25 years or so, having at least one runner in every single renewal this century.

That absence will almost certainly be felt most by Mick Meagher, Hemmings’ long-time racing manager who took up duties at Gleadhill House Stud in Euxton, Lancashire back in 1999.

Meagher explained that it did not take long for Hemmings, who passed away in October last year, to outline his intentions. He explained: “When I joined, winning the Grand National was definitely a target.

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Trevor Hemmings with one of his three Grand National winners Many Clouds

“The first week I was here I went into the office with him and I asked what the long term plan was. He replied: ‘I want to win the Grand National’ and I said he had no chance!

“He said he would put everything in place for us to have a go and that was as early as the first week I worked for him. He just loved Aintree as a place and every year he’d be hugely excited and looking forward to the National, even last year when he couldn’t go due to the pandemic.

“He loved the hype around Cloth Cap being the favourite for the race and being talked about as being so well in at the weights – he was like a football fan looking forward to a European Cup Final.

"He just loved it.”

Ballabriggs owner Trevor Hemmings (right) and jockey Jason Maguire celebrate their Grand National victory in 2011

Hemmings’ first runner in the race was with Rubika back in 1992 and Meagher recalled that his fondness for the Grand National was a love affair that grew from his friendship with the businessman and holiday camp pioneer Fred Pontin – who himself won the race with Specify in 1971.

He said: “Fred Pontin said to him that he would never win one, so he had to prove his point and win three!”

Although success was just around the corner, progress was slow at first and 11 runners had represented Hemmings in the race before Hedgehunter was purchased in early 2003.

It was unusual for Hemmings to buy horses who were already some way into their careers, but Meagher explained that it took merely one trip to Closutton to realise he had a serious horse on his hands.

Trevor Hemmings with his unique collection of three Grand National trophies

He said: “Minty (David Minton) did a lot of work sourcing horses for the boss and he talked me into going and seeing Hedgehunter at Willie Mullins’ yard.

“I took a long weekend over to Ireland and went and rode him on a Saturday morning and bought him there and then.

“Willie said he’d sell him to us and the price was what it was as he had three people lined up to buy him the week after. I told the boss that I’d bought him and he was a bit shocked that I didn’t try to do a bit more of a deal! To his credit, he just said ‘you must have been keen’.”

Hemmings’ faith in his staff was rewarded and having fallen at the final fence in the 2004 renewal, Hedgehunter returned 12 months later to realise his owner’s ultimate ambition, winning the world’s greatest steeplechase by 14 lengths.

Two more Grand National winners would follow, with Ballabriggs in 2011 and Many Clouds in 2015, making Hemmings the only man to own three different winners of the race – and the joint winning-most owner in the race’s history.

Meagher explained that Hemmings was hands-on when it came to sourcing horses of the future.

He said: “He’d come to the sales with me and Minty and we’d narrow down the runners to a list.

“We were at the Goffs Land Rover Sales one year and I’d only starred up a couple of horses on the entire list. He took a look and straight away said ‘I’m not buying another Beneficial’ as we’d had a few and they had been disappointing.

“I rolled my eyes and walked off down the yard. Five minutes later I see the Beneficial going through for £45,000 and I asked someone in the yard who had bought him, to which I was told ‘Highflyer Bloodstock’. I came back up and saw Minty, who said ‘we thought we’d better bid on him or you’d sulk for the day’. That horse was Cloth Cap, so how’s your luck?!”

While Hemmings will not be at his beloved Aintree to see them, Cloth Cap and Deise Aba are set to race in his famous silks in the Randox Grand National this weekend.

Cloth Cap was pulled up when favourite for the race 12 months ago, but Meagher is adamant he should not be written off this time around.

He said: “Looking back to last year, you’d wonder how the heck Cloth Cap is 25-1 for this year’s race. His form hasn’t been brilliant this year, but he has come back down to a proper handicap mark now and I feel he’s where he should be after what he did (in the 2020 Ladbrokes Trophy) at Newbury.”

On Deise Aba, Meagher added: “He’s in great form and he probably deserves to be a 66-1 outsider. He only seems to run his best races over fences at Sandown – which is the wrong way round and is different in complexion to Aintree – but he’s a good jumper and has plenty of ability.

“He’s not badly handicapped so you never know, it may just light him up a bit.”

The Hemmings silks remain a regular sight on racecourses as horses continue to race for his estate and Meagher concluded: “We’ve got a grand bunch of youngsters coming through – I don’t think we’ve ever won as many novice hurdle races in a season. The majority will be going novice chasing next year and some of those are really quite nice.

“We don’t expect our novice hurdlers to be 150-rated over timber and all of our big race winners improved once they saw a fence as a rule. They never get overworked as youngsters, so to have as many novice hurdlers winning is great. Put it this way, if he was around he’d certainly be enjoying it!

“I find it very hard to change as I’m just moulded into the way the boss wanted to do things; they might have a run or two in a bumper or a point-to-point and then we go novice hurdling. Very few went handicap hurdling – they’d go novice chasing the following year and we’d see how good they were after that.

“It was great to have that sort of plan with horses, but these are as exciting a bunch that we’ve ever had, so we’ll see.”