Many of the best National Hunt jockeys of the modern era, including Jonjo O’Neill, John Francome, Peter Scudamore and even Richard Johnson – who’s ridden more winners than anyone else in the history of the sport, apart from Sir Anthony Peter “A.P.” McCoy – have failed to win the Grand National. Not so Leighton Aspell who, unlike those illustrious names, will never be champion jockey, but has won the National not just once, but twice.
Aspell first rode in the National, at the age of 27, in 2003 and later admitted that he was “thrilled to bits” to finish second on 40/1 outsider Supreme Glory, 12 lengths behind the winner, Monty’s Pass. He came a cropper at Becher’s Brook, the Chair and Valentine’s Brook in 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively and, when he pulled up Billyvoddan, who was tailed off at the time, approaching the first open ditch on the second circuit in 2007, his chance of winning the National appeared to be gone forever.
Three months later, no longer enjoying racing or going racing, Aspell retired from race riding. However, after working as pupil assistant to Arundel trainer John Dunlop, he began to miss race riding and announced his comeback as a jockey in April, 2009. He didn’t ride in the Grand National until 2011 when, although he completed the course, was beaten the proverbial “country mile” on 66/1 outsider In Compliance, who finished thirteenth of the 19 finishers.
However, undeterred, Aspell was back at Aintree three years later, aboard 25/1 chance Pineau De Re, an 11-year-old trained by Dr. Richard Newland. A small, but classy, individual, Pineau De Re made a few jumping errors, but ultimately pulled clear on the run-in to beat Balthazar King by 5 lengths. Aspell said afterwards, “It’s a wonderful day. This is what we do it for.”
Lo and behold, Aspell won the Grand National again in 2015, aboard another 25/1 chance, Many Clouds, an 8-year-old trained by Oliver Sherwood. In so doing, he became the first jockey since Brian Fletcher, in 1974 – and just the third since World War II – to win back-to-back Nationals.