The Aintree Fox Hunters' Chase is the amateur's Grand National. Cheltenham may have its roar, but the Aintree fences are the biggest in the business.
GETTING ROUND IS NEVER EASY
He is not wrong on that score. They say you always remember your first ride round Aintree. I remember, in 1986, Rocamist giving me a wonderful, faultless introduction in the Aintree Fox Hunters’. The photo of us sailing over Becher’s, the traditional cab being hailed, sits opposite me in my office. I still marvel at how much longer a horse seems to spend hanging in the air over Aintree’s famous drops.
John Maxse, erstwhile director of communi-cations for the Jockey Club, has little memory of his first and only ride round the Aintree Fox Hunters’. He can recall getting to the start and then waking up in Fazackerley Hospital wondering how he got there.
It took Julian Seaman, an eventer who had completed Badminton, four attempts to get beyond the first fence. “Yes,” he confirms. “The Aintree Fox Hunters’ takes up a useful part of my after-dinner disaster speeches. I reasoned that if I could negotiate the Normandy bank I could negotiate Aintree. The first year I was going much too fast and wiped out in gratuitous fashion at the first. Only one good thing came out of it. At the time I was a fashion student so used to go to people like Vidal Sassoon to get my hair cut. Needing a haircut, thinking I’d be dead by Saturday, I went to the local Cypriot barber, had the best haircut I’ve ever had and have been going to him for 25 years since.
“The second year I was in control, saw the horse next to me go a purler and thought, ‘poor bugger – that’s what happened to me last year’ when, bang, he took the legs out from underneath me.” The following year his mount, Boonabaroo, had a heart attack going into the fence.
His final – come what may – attempt was on Ballyvoneen in 1988. “As soon as we cleared the first I was into unknown territory. I remember going to The Chair and doing this pathetic Pony Club ‘hup’ as we took off. At Becher’s, in a panic attack, I stuck my feet in his ears, which probably did save me falling off and I finished ninth, the same position as I had at Badminton.
“Having had so many disappointments
I remember the huge elation at getting round. John Buckingham had been my valet for all four rides and when I came out of the shower he came over, tweaked my tits and said, ‘Well done Mr Seaman, you did it.’ The man who rode Foinavon, tweaking my tits. ‘Yes’, I thought, ‘Seaman, you’ve finally cracked it.'”