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.
THE PINNACLE OF A RACING CAREER
Dido Harding, now chief-executive of Talk-Talk, will be best known for owning 1998 Gold Cup winner Cool Dawn and her sometimes interesting attempts to steer him in the early days. “Without doubts, completing in the Aintree Fox Hunters’ on Unlimited Free in 2004 was the best day of my racing life, even better than winning the Gold Cup as an owner because I always preferred participating to spectating,” she explains.
“I hate dentists and when I had a crown fitted recently I tried to remember jumping each fence. I remember meeting the first on a perfect stride and the feeling of surprise coming up through the horse. We both went ‘ooh’. We met The Chair on a long stride and that’s about as good as it will ever get. Mick Fitzgerald (‘better than sex’) was right. Afterwards even the most hard-bitten riders were as high as kites on the experience, even those who had taken crashing falls were thrilled at having jumped half the course.
“If someone said I could do it again tomorrow I’d drop everything to – though, of course, my family would sit on me not to do it. The greatest sadness was that I didn’t get a single decent photo. I’ve got one where I’m a dot from the stands but I think the racing photographers were missing a trick that day, I’d have paid good money for one.”
Lord Daresbury, now chairman of Aintree, won the Aintree Fox Hunters’ in 1982 on Lone Soldier and, apart from his other duties, now annually watches any number of sons, between one and four, taking part. Last year his eldest son Thomas won when deputising for his injured younger brother, Oliver.
“It is the biggest buzz,” he said. “The Foxhunters at Cheltenham is great, too, but it is the bridesmaid race of the day whereas the Aintree Fox Hunters’ it is the signature race of the Thursday; the amateurs are in the spotlight. It really is a magic race.”