West Sussex horse racing enthusiasts have been celebrating after Pulborough-based jockey Leighton Aspell won the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday by a comfortable five lengths on board 25-1 shot Pineau De Re.
His wife Nicola and three young daughters were there to see him achieve this fine victory on board the horse trained by Dr Richard Newland, and owned by Newland’s long-time friend John Provan.
They were welcomed back into the Aintree winners enclosure to tumultuous applause.
Leighton, 37, was second on his first ride in the National on Supreme Glory and has had to wait for a further six rides in the race before winning the coveted National.
This was yet another fairy tale win for the big race, with the jockey having retired from the saddle in July 2007, feeling things were not going his way.
He went to work as assistant trainer to John Dunlop at Castle Stables, but admitted he missed the thrill of National Hunt racing and in less than two years he was back riding over jumps.
Following the biggest win of his career a delighted Leighton said: “It was wonderful. I had a super ride round and we went at a nice pace.
“I was never obstructed by fallers - they went down on the left or right of me. I knew I was going to win when we reached the elbow and I heard on the commentary that I was around six lengths clear.
“It’s a dream come true. The feeling is elation when you cross the line - and at my age I wouldn’t have many more chances to win this race.
“You keep going through a combination of tiredness and adrenalin. I was trying to save as much as I could. He’d won over three and a half miles so there was every chance he would get the trip.”
Returning to the saddle was clearly a good decision for the local jockey as Leighton is currently enjoying his best ever season, having ridden more than 60 winners, and 55 placed horses, riding for trainer Oliver Sherwood and others, including West Sussex trainers.
He has strong links with Findon, where he had ridden winners for Josh Gifford during the early part of his career and still rides occasionally for Josh’s son Nick. Congratulations poured in from friends and colleagues locally, as well as nationally.
There was also another aspect of the fairy tale in true Aintree fashion. Trainer Dr Richard Newland had just retired as a GP, having carried out extensive research into prostate cancer and anorexia.
Horse racing had been his passion and he combined both roles from his base at Claines, outside Worcester - training initially a handful of horses as a hobby.
A year after he took out a licence to train in 2004, he trained Burntoakboy to win at the Cheltenham Festival.
It was back to business as normal the following day when the winning bandwagon still rolled on for both jockey and trainer.
They teamed up again at Market Rasen to win a three mile one furlong novice chase with 8-11 shot Ardkilly Witness.
It was also the second leg of a double for Dr Newland who had earlier sent out Dalmo, 13-8 favourite to win a lady’s riders selling hurdle race ridden by Miss A E Stirling.