Grand National Legend – Amberleigh House
The 2014 Grand National is the first time in the race’s illustrious history that it has had a purse of over £1m.
It is the first time the race has been run, since Crabbie’s secure a three-year sponsorship of the Aintree festival and this coincides perfectly with the ten-year anniversary of Amberleigh House’s Grand National victory, as the gelding was owned by Halewood International, of which Crabbie’s is a key brand.
Halewood International’s founder, the late John Halewood, was always extremely interested in racing and purchased Amberleigh House, who was at the legendary Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain’s stable.
He only managed to win five of his 43 starts over the obstacles, but managed to complete a magnificent story back in 2004, when landing Ginger McCain’s fourth and final Grand National, as a trainer, after Red Rum famously landed the race three times during the 1970’s.
Amberleigh House was the ultimate in consistency over the unique Grand National obstacles, racing over the fences a grand total of 11 times, without ever falling. He raced five times in the big race itself, and always managed to give a solid performance. He was brought down in his first attempt back in 2001, before returning two years later to finish a gallant third, at 33/1 for Graham Lee.
This was enough to ensure Ginger put all his effort in to readying the then 12-y-o, for another crack at the Aintree feature twelve months later. No-one knew just how to ready a horse for a big race at Aintree like McCain, and Amberleigh House entered the 2004 renewal as a well-backed 16/1 shot, despite not having won a race for nearly two years.
He was ridden extremely patiently by the now flat jockey Graham Lee, and he was switched off in the early stages after settling extremely well. He began to make steady headway, stalking the co-favourite Clan Royal as he began sweeping through the field towards the end of the second circuit.
After a faller left Amberleigh House in third place coming over the last, the sense of something special began to exude from the Aintree crowd, as the famous Halewood International colours starting cutting down the distance between the front pair on the flat. Coming past the elbow he still had ground to make up, but he managed to seize the momentum that Clan Royal had lost when making a mistake at the last, and pass him close home to land the Aintree feature by three lengths going away.
Aintree erupted, as although the 12-y-o had got the better of the well-backed Clan Royal, nobody could deny just how much Ginger deserved one more National before he was to retire. The scenes in the winner’s enclosure will live long in the memory for all who were there to witness it, and this warrants Amberleigh House’s status amongst the Grand National legends.
“He was foot-perfect. He’s a professional. He’s the best thing that has happened to me for a long, long time,” a tearful McCain said in the immediate aftermath of the race, as he was congratulated by everyone who can get within earshot of the legendary handler.
Amberleigh House returned for two more attempts, aged 13 and 14, but could finish no better than tenth when attempting to defend his crown. His final appearance on a racecourse was to be fittingly at Aintree, after he was retired when being pulled up in the 2006 Grand National, at the grand old age of 14.
Since then he has been retired to National Stud, where he is enjoying in his well-deserved retirement. He occasionally goes out to events for public visits, and was recently paraded around Goodison Park before an Everton game to celebrate the Crabbie’s Grand National meeting, during their own diversity day.
Now, the Grand National has arrived, and ten-years on from Amberleigh House’s success, Halewood International have another own runner in the race in the shape of the 13-y-o Swing Bill, who they will be hoping can emulate their former talented veteran who will be watching on from the course.