Aspell’s one regret not enough to tinge memories

2015 Grand National

Photo by Dan Heap is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Leighton Aspell will forever be assured of his place in the annals of Grand National history and the dual winner has few regrets having called time on his career in the saddle.

Aspell, 43, rode for the final time at Fontwell last Sunday and insists there will be no third act in his career as a jockey.

His remarkable association with Grand National winner Many Clouds is something quite unique, says trainer Oliver Sherwood.

Not his first time

Aspell initially hung up his saddle in 2007 before making a return to race-riding two years later.

That was to prove an inspired decision as the highlights of his career lay in store in the ‘second half’ of his career.

He had been dual winner of the Welsh Grand National in part one but those Chepstow exploits in partnering Supreme Glory (2001) and L’Aventure (2005) would pale in comparison to what he eventually achieved in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.

Back-to-back victories in the Aintree showpiece made him the first jockey since Red Rum’s partner Brian Fletcher to achieve such a distinction.

Aintree memories the best

Aspell’s first Aintree win came on the Dr Richard Newland-trained Pineau De Re in 2014. They survived a few mistakes on the way around before getting to the front at the second last and seeing off Balthazar King and Richard Johnson by five lengths.

Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds, also a 25-1 chance like Pineau De Re, would incredibly give Aspell back-to-back wins a year later, holding off the rallying Saint Are to win in the race that marked Sir Anthony McCoy’s Grand National farewell.

“Winning the Nationals back-to-back would be the highlight, along with the Hennessy (aboard Many Clouds), but I have had many other great winners for Oliver Sherwood and many other people like Lucy Wadham, Nick Gifford and Josh Gifford,” said Aspell as he bowed out.

Cheltenham the missing link

Whilst clearly thrilled with his lot, Aspell did pinpoint the one glaring omission from a jumps jockey’s CV as something he’d have to live with.

In his time in the plate, he never managed to snare a winner at Cheltenham Festival.

He added: “I’m going to die a Cheltenham Festival virgin. I’ve had plenty of rides there, but no winners. Deputy Dan was placed in the Albert Bartlett a few years ago and a couple have been placed in handicaps, but that is about it.

“I’m very proud and I’m a very lucky man to have done it as long as I could and to still be getting the opportunity to ride good horses.”

Many Clouds relationship unique – Sherwood

Aspell rode Many Clouds on every single one of his 27 racecourse outings, something trainer Oliver Sherwood admits is very rare.

He was of course on board that ill-fated January afternoon when the National winner claimed the scalp of Thistlecrack in a Cotswolds Chase thriller, before collapsing post-race and losing his life.

For the trainer, that special bond between horse and rider is a testament to Aspell’s career in the saddle that will stand to him.

“We had 16 pretty good years together. We were counting up and he’s ridden nearly 250 winners for me. I think it’s one of the longer associations in National Hunt racing,” he said.

“I can’t talk highly enough about the man. He’s a proper professional, a true horseman, a real team player. He’ll be sorely missed and I wish him all the best for the future.

“As for highlights – it’s Many Clouds by a country mile. He was the only man who ever rode him or schooled him at home and rode him on a racecourse. That’s quite unique in this game.”

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