Maxwell looking to uphold Grand National family honour

By Sports Desk April 05, 2024

David Maxwell has been living out his dream, buying nice horses and getting to ride them himself – but it will peak when he lines up in the Randox Grand National on Ain’t That A Shame.

Like many involved in the sport, the Grand National is seen as the pinnacle to Maxwell but for a man viewed as an old-fashioned Corinthian amateur, it is a summit his family has already scaled, at least in one capacity.

The 1988 Grand National won by Rhyme ‘N’ Reason is one of the more famous ones, given how he almost fell at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit only to work his way back into contention under Brendan Powell.

For the Maxwell family, it was an emotional and stressful day, as the property developer explained: “My main Grand National memory is Rhyme ‘N’ Reason. My mother bred the horse, then my dad trained him for his first bumper wins before he went to England to be trained by David Murray Smith and latterly David Elsworth.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. He was headed in the closing stages by Durham Edition, but he was a bit of an old rogue and as soon as he hit the front, he felt like he’d done enough – and Rhyme ‘N’ Reason was as game as a badger and won by four lengths.

“The entire Maxwell family were screaming their heads off, my mother was nine months pregnant with my now 35-year-old sister. Just 10 minutes after the race, the gynaecologist was sitting next to her!

“He actually broke three bones in his hock when he almost came down at Becher’s and he never raced again but it just goes to show how game he was.”

Maxwell has come close to glory over the famous fences already, and while it was not in the National, his second place on Cat Tiger in the 2022 Foxhunters’ should at least give him some confidence down at the start.

“Cat Tiger pings round there and was second to Latenightpass in the Foxhunters’ – and of course Latenightpass is in the National this year,” said Maxwell.

“He’s not over-big but he’s very game. The Foxhunters’ is actually the only race I’ve been down at the start thinking ‘this might not actually be a good idea’, but then you get called in, do a slap down the shoulder, as much for yourself as the horse, and just get on with it.”

There has been plenty said about Maxwell’s participation in this year’s race but having met all the requirements, and after amateur Sam Waley-Cohen’s win on Noble Yeats two years ago, there is still the fairytale element to the race that no other has.

“Racing for me has been a bit of a middle-aged man obsession. I started mucking around with point-to-pointers in my late 20s, then I got a few more and got a few more and just kept going. You keep finding the next iteration of the drug,” said Maxwell.

“It starts with what turns out to be slow three-mile chasers for pointing, then someone shows you a nice hunter chaser, then it’s novice hurdlers, so there’s another stage of everything, like being allowed to ride against pros. I suppose the ultimate of it all is riding in the National.

“I don’t know if there’s anything in the theory of amateurs having a good record in it because some liken it to hunting. My theory is, if you are in the National, you can win it, all the cards are thrown in the air.”

Every year there are meetings to see what can be done to make the race safer and following last year’s disruption, racing was forced into defensive mode more than it ever has in the past, but the 45-year-old believes the right steps have been taken.

“I wouldn’t say anything can happen anymore, as they’ve made it safer to navigate with the fences and they’ve made it more and more like a really good Saturday handicap,” said Maxwell.

“With that, I mean Corach Rambler is 4-1 favourite and he never looks like not winning, it’s less and less like Foinavon could win this – but you do still get rank outsiders winning.

“This year, there are three amateurs in the race, so there’s around a nine per cent chance of an amateur winning it.

“The race has changed, you’ve got to have a touch of class now. But the world changes all the time.

“In racing, we are fond of knocking ourselves but racing has done a really good job here of making it safer. Every year, a lot of thought goes into it and this year it is no exception, with the field reduced to 34 and perhaps the best idea is making the run to the first fence shorter.

“Nobody wants to see fallers, we’re all animal lovers, so these changes make it a bit safer, there’s no point us continuing with our head in the sand.

“If we proceed thinking the world is the same as it was before – it’s not. It’s right that the Jockey Club and the BHA have made these changes to make the race safer.

“If you have a horse who is a safe conveyance and stays four miles, the likelihood is these days that you will get round – and then you get the situation where the best handicapped horse wins.”

Maxwell’s mount, trained in Ireland by Henry de Bromhead, who has won the National with Minella Times, has already won one of Ireland’s most competitive races, the Thyestes Chase.

“He’s a nice horse, I went and schooled him last week and he’s a lovely horse. He must have a reasonable chance but I’m actually looking forward to going hunter chasing with him the year after next when he’s 12,” said Maxwell.

“The Thyestes is always a good race and the fact that he didn’t go to Cheltenham must stand him in good stead too.

“It’s clearly going to be soft ground and obviously we all hope it doesn’t rain too much, but what we really would want is for it to stop raining about three days before the race, as then the ground would start becoming really hard work. If it’s just wet and sloppy, then it’s much easier to get through it.”

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