LIVERPOOL, England — Leighton Aspell became the first jockey in 61 years to win back-to-back Grand Nationals on different horses by riding Many Clouds to victory in the world’s most grueling jumps race on Saturday.
Tony McCoy, Britain’s most successful jumps jockey, was denied a win on his final National before retirement, finishing fifth on pre-race favourite Shutthefrontdoor after being in contention for most of the 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) trip.
The 8-year-old Many Clouds won by a length and three-quarters from Saint Are at odds of 25-1, giving 79-year-old owner Trevor Hemmings a third victory in the race after Hedgehunter in 2005 and Ballabriggs in 2011. Only three other owners have achieved that feat — and none in the past 100 years.
Hemmings is the owner of Preston North End, a third-tier English football club, and the former owner of a British holiday camp.
Balthazar King, one of the favourites, had a heavy fall at the Canal Turn and received medical attention on the course but was given the all-clear. There have been no deaths in the race for the past three years, with two horses having died in both the 2011 and ’12 editions.
Nineteen of the 39 starters made it to the finish.
Aspell quit as a jockey in a heat-of-the-moment decision in 2007, saying he’d lost his passion for racing after a tough season, but returned 18 months later because he missed the weighing-room camaraderie and the thrill of the sport. It has proved to be the right decision.
Twelve months after a surprise win on Pineau De Re over the same 30 fences, the 38-year-old Aspell enjoyed a clean ride on Many Clouds under clear blue skies in northern England.
“Last year, I was shell-shocked and I had to work hard,” Aspell said. “This year, I had a smooth ride.”
“If you look back now, it was a crazy decision to retire,” he added. “But it has given me new-found enthusiasm.”
Many Clouds won the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2014 but had a disappointing race in the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, finishing sixth.
Trainer Oliver Sherwood had second thoughts about entering him for the Grand National but Hemmings thought otherwise.
“What do trainers know?” Sherwood said, with a chuckle. Sherwood hadn’t had a horse finish the National in four previous attempts.
Aspell said he had a good position throughout the race, with Many Clouds never far from Shutthefrontdoor — the 6-1 favourite in McCoy’s record-setting 20th and last ride around Aintree.
Coming to the final fence, Many Clouds had surged three lengths ahead of Saint Are as Shutthefrontdoor started to fade. Many Clouds still had enough left in him in the long finish to hold off Saint Are (25-1) to the post.
A win for McCoy, the soon-to-be 20-time champion jockey in Britain with 4,356 wins in his career, would have been one of the most emotional story lines in British horse racing and cost bookmakers an estimated 50 million pounds ($73 million).
“I was very happy for a lot of the way,” McCoy said. “I was following up behind Many Clouds, who I know is a dour stayer … but going around the final bend I felt I was running on empty.”
McCoy is due to ride his last race at Sandown on April 25. He would have retired on the spot Saturday had he earned a second Grand National win.
Nina Carberry, the only female jockey in the race, finished 16th on First Lieutenant.
Many Clouds won 561,300 pounds ($820,000) for Hemmings out of a total prize pot of 1 million pounds.
The last jockey to win successive Nationals on different horses was Bryan Marshall in 1953-54. Brian Fletcher was Red Rum’s jockey when the National’s most storied horse won back-to-back races in 1973-74.
Steve Douglas, The Associated Press