Sport Horse Racing

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Something in the water for Lake View


'There are, essentially, two ways into training: you either join a yard on leaving school or you go into business, it is your hobby and it gradually takes over.' Stock photo
‘There are, essentially, two ways into training: you either join a yard on leaving school or you go into business, it is your hobby and it gradually takes over.’ Stock photo

If the medicinal properties of the spring water which filters down through the Lomond Hills in Kinross-shire were supposed to be able to cure Robert the Bruce of leprosy, then propelling Lake View Lad to victory in next Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National should be a mere formality.

Though Irish in origin, the nine-year-old grey is aptly named: his perch halfway up Bishop Hill, Kinneston, the yard where he is trained by Nick Alexander, overlooks Loch Leven, in whose island castle Mary, Queen of Scots, was incarcerated in 1567.

There are, essentially, two ways into training: you either join a yard on leaving school or you go into business, it is your hobby and it gradually takes over. It is from the latter camp that Alexander, 57, has emerged as one of the rising stars of the training ranks.

The family bus-building business, W Alexander and Sons, was run by his forebears until it was nationalised in 1947, though it remains Falkirk’s biggest employer. During a spell as an accountant in Leeds, Alexander’s father, Cyril, ran into two young brothers, Mick and Peter Easterby, and that contact is the source of the racing bug in the Alexanders.

“I think Mick sold my father a lot of bad horses – anything they couldn’t sell elsewhere – but they did include my father’s 1966 Aintree Fox Hunters’ winner, Subaltern,” says Nick Alexander.

After university Alexander ended up working in finance in London, where he made swift progress until, in 1988, he was dispatched to Edinburgh to set up a stockbroking office. “When it was taken over by Credit Lyonnais, I got a bit disillusioned. I was effectively working as a French civil servant.”

He quit in 1990, took an MBA and became an entrepreneur. It was during a spell as the finance chief of a small toiletries business that he received a call one morning from a customer in Dublin, whose locks had been turned orange by the company’s hair gel. “It was lower-end stuff,” he recalls. “I’d had five more calls from the same area by lunchtime and we’d clearly got the potion wrong. By way of compensation we gave them all a hamper of our products!”

By then Cyril had moved to Kinneston, where he was training his own horses under permit. When he died in 1992, Jim Barclay was employed to train under licence at Kinneston. “We supplied the horses, but it wasn’t really happening, so in 2002 I decided to take a permit to train for the family,” says Alexander.

He surprised himself. In two of five years he had the champion horse trained by a permit-holder and, then he took out a full licence. What he lacked in experience was balanced by the advantage of a business brain, not something all trainers are blessed with.

The game-changer was when his daughter Lucy won the conditional jockeys’ title in 2013. Not long after Sue Bradburne retired, bequeathing him her horses, owners and, for a while, her own experience as assistant. “When Lucy won the title with 38 winners, 27 of them were for us, which brought in owners.”

Lake View Lad had finished third in a Punchestown bumper when Alexander bought him for £70,000 in 2015. It was the most expensive horse he had ever bought. “I have always thought Irish point-to-pointers are overvalued while bumper horses are undervalued and not trained so hard. He’s surpassed expectations. He took a couple of tumbles in his first season over hurdles because he was overexuberant, but he won three and had a hiccup after he ran at Carlisle in his second chase, but Alastair Cochrane, his owner, was very patient and he didn’t run again that season. When you have a limited number of good horses it is easy to get carried away, but you have to nurture them.”

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In the autumn, Cochrane sold him to Trevor Hemmings. Since then, under jockey Henry Brooke, he has won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle, the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby and, at Cheltenham, finished strongly in third under top weight in the Ultima Chase.

Alexander has been to Aintree many times but this will be the first time he has been there on Grand National day.

“My natural inclination is not to think too much about the race,” he says. “It is in the lap of the gods. On soft he’s a lot better and then there is the luck you have and the luck of the opposition. If Tiger Roll and Anibale Fly get round they can’t get beat, but I hope we have luck in running.”

No man can bottle luck, but the local mineral water is a different matter. And when Lake View Lad is sent to Aintree next weekend it will be with his own supply. Scotland will be hoping it is more effective than the trainer’s hair gel.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk


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