AINTREE, United Kingdom (AFP) – Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson celebrated a notable hat-trick on the opening day of the Aintree Grand National meeting on Thursday, with three of his horses triumphing in Grade One races.
The 79-year-old Scot said it was his “best day in racing” after Protektorat, Monmiral and the star of the show, Clan Des Obeaux, all triumphed at the racecourse near Liverpool.
Ferguson is no stranger to success in racing. Rock of Gibraltar won 10 of his 13 starts in 2001 and 2002, including both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas.
The former United boss had a fierce rivalry with Liverpool Football Club during his 27-year reign at Old Trafford, displacing them as the dominant force in English football.
“Always great to score a hat-trick in Liverpool, they won’t be very pleased,” said a masked Ferguson, who co-owns the winning horses.
“That’s the best day I’ve had in my time in racing, which is about 20 years or so.
“It is different to when I was managing my football teams — I was in control of what was going to happen on the pitch, but I’m not in control of that (on the racetrack) as the trainer (Paul Nicholls) does all of that and as an owner you hope it goes well.
“You do get the same excitement when you win big races like that as it does get you very excited.”
Clan Des Obeaux, after his victory in the Betway Bowl Chase, is the most successful jumps horse Ferguson has had an interest in.
Ferguson will be back on Saturday as he has an outsider in the Grand National, Give Me A Copper, who is bidding to succeed two-time winner Tiger Roll.
Tiger Roll’s attempt to add the Bowl to his Aintree heroics — he was withdrawn from the National over an “unfair weight burden” — fell flat and he trailed in a long way back.
“He is very tired but absolutely fine,” said his jockey Jack Kennedy. “He was really outclassed but the main thing is he is home safely.”
Kennedy had better fortune in the Aintree Hurdle, winning on Abacadabras. The win was rich compensation for the jockey after he fell in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
The Champion Hurdle-winning partnership of trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore fared less well as Jason The Militant came to grief.
However, he played a pivotal role in Kennedy’s success as, running loose, he kept Abacadabras’ mind focused.
“I got there a bit soon (to the front) but the loose horse helped me,” said Kennedy. “It gave my lad a bit of company so that was a big help.”
While Kennedy and Ferguson are used to big wins, trainer Joe O’Shea enjoyed a rare share of the spotlight as 66/1 outsider Cousin Pascal won the Rose Paterson Foxhunters’ Chase over the Grand National fences.
“My dream, ever since I sneaked in to watch Rag Trade win the 1976 National — I’d just left school. I said ‘I’m going to train a winner over these National fences’,” said O’Shea, who also backed the horse.
The race was named after the late chairwoman of Aintree, who took her own life last June.
Her widower, former government minister Owen Paterson, was present with their two sons and has set up a foundation to tackle suicide.