When Robert Aplin’s daughters started going to university in the southwest he could hardly have dreamt that would lead to him owning a racehorse with a leading chance in the American Grand National. His ten-year-old gelding Hammersly Lake runs in that race on Saturday.
Five years ago businessman Robert and his wife decided to relocate to Bristol Harbourside in order to be nearer their girls, and this coincided with having more time to indulge his interest in horse racing. He’d first dabbled in racehorse ownership 25 years ago, but domestic priorities understandably took precedence for most of the interim. He resumed by buying or taking shares in various jumpers, and the purchase in 2016 of one called Sharp Rise proved to be a real money-spinner. He won four of his six runs that summer, finished second in another, and unseated his rider while leading in the other one. His trainer Charlie Longsdon then pointed out to Robert that there was a race in the USA that autumn worth many times more than the prizes he was running for in England.
The race in question was the Grand National Hurdle Stakes, worth about £240,000. It takes place in the rural atmosphere of Far Hills, New Jersey – one of the States’ premier jumping tracks, an hour and a half’s drive from New York. Though it is generally referred to as the American Grand National, it is not as long and the obstacles are not as daunting as the English equivalent at Aintree.
Sharp Rise was entered and came a creditable third, earning almost £24,000 in the process. He would have been aimed at the 2017 race but, sadly, he died. The idea of American glory had caught hold of Robert, though, and he bought Hammersly Lake, an experienced nine-year-old. He was a good jumper and would be suited by conditions at Far Hills. He was sent to the Longsdon yard, and two seconds and a win at Perth preceded his trip to Far Hills. There he finished a close but slightly disappointing fifth.
Undeterred, Robert has aimed Hammersly Lake at the same American target again. Of his last four domestic starts, he’s won two and finished second and third in the others. His latest victory was in the same Perth race that he won last year. In these four outings, all handicaps, he has had to carry top weight. However, at Far Hills he will have the advantage of carrying the same weight as his rivals, who will almost certainly be inferior; according to the British handicapper his run at Perth leaves him not far short of Gold Cup class.
Robert and his family, friends and supporters will be at Far Hills on Saturday cheering Hammersly Lake on, hoping for a unique British victory in one of American jump racing’s most prestigious events.