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Monday 23 April 2018

Farmer owned Raz De Maree is a live Grand National contender

Trainer Gavin Cromwell has a live Grand National contender in Raz De Maree

Raz De Maree and Ger Fox clear the last to land the Paddy Power Cork Grand National Handicap Chase at Cork
Raz De Maree and Ger Fox clear the last to land the Paddy Power Cork Grand National Handicap Chase at Cork

Siobhán English

Finding a bar stool for a pint of cider in Swans Pub in Skryne or even O'Connells on the Hill might prove difficult next Saturday afternoon when Raz De Maree gives local trainer Gavin Cromwell his first ever runner in the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree.

It may have taken almost 12 years to get there, but the Co Meath man now heads across the water with a live chance in the £100,000 contest with the 12-year-old owned by the trainer's neighbour and long family friend, farmer Jimmy Swan.

Unlike Cromwell, Raz De Maree is no stranger to Aintree and finished a creditable eighth under Davy Condon in 2014 when trained by the great Dessie Hughes.

The late Co Kildare handler had also trained the gelding to win the Paddy Power Cork National in 2012 - a feat impressively repeated four years later for Cromwell when ridden by jockey Ger Fox.

Last December the 12-year-old National specialist came close to also landing the Welsh equivalent when second behind by the hotly-fancied Native River, but Cromwell is strongly optimistic that he will run a big race next Saturday when Fox returns to take the reins.

"We were initially lying 55th on the list having been allocated a weight of 10st 4lb but we're definitely in now in 38th so there's great excitement here in Skryne.

Jockey Barry Geraghty with Jer's Girl, alongside Trainer Gavin Cromwell, left, and Owner J.P. McManus after winning the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle
Jockey Barry Geraghty with Jer's Girl, alongside Trainer Gavin Cromwell, left, and Owner J.P. McManus after winning the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle

"The horse has given the owner a few great days out in the past and I reckon half of the village will travel over again. It's a real family affair as Jimmy's brother Frank owns Swans Pub in the village."

Initially aimed at the Betfred Eider Chase in Newcastle in late February, he was instead re-routed to Thurles in early March where he finished second to Diamond Cauchois in a 2m7f hurdle.

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On Saturday he returns to chasing to meet the likes of the recent Cheltenham winner Cause of Causes in addition to ante-post favourite, the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge.

Not for the first time Gavin Cromwell and fellow Meath trainer Gordon will duel on the track, but their friendship goes back much further than racing and Cromwell remembers spending their childhood days hunting hard with the Ward Union.

They have remained good friends ever since and Cromwell is now head farrier to the Elliott empire.

While Elliott later learned the ropes in racing with Tony Martin, Cromwell spent his summers on the Curragh with Dessie Hughes. From there he travelled to the UK and Australia, working for the likes of Ben Hambury in Newmarket and Johnny Meagher in Melbourne.

It was while down under that Cromwell began to take an interest in the art of farriery, eventually returning home to take up an apprenticeship with Anthony Lynch.

"At that stage I knew I was not going to be a full-time jockey so I decided to train to be a farrier and at the same time pick up a few point-to-point rides - and winners!" he noted.

Following on from his uncle Jerry who also trained, Cromwell did not take long to get the bug and by 2006 he was out on his own, and with his own facilities.

"I had taken the plunge in 2005 and bought the 15 acres where I am now. I was also shoeing full-time which was just as well as it helped to finance it."

He fondly remembers Dodder Walk providing him with his first winner on home soil in May of that year, with Arresting earlier landing the spoils across the water in Perth.

"Then everything collapsed and at one stage I was down to one horse. I am just glad I had the farrier work to keep me going - otherwise it would have been a disaster as I had just expanded the place."

Other notable residents include Balrath Hope, winner of the Ulster Oaks in 2012, and Sretaw, winner of the Irish Cambridgeshire at the Curragh in 2014.

Two years later and Cromwell had hit the big time with his first Grade 1 success thanks to Jer's Girl who romped home in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares' Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse before adding to it the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

By the season's end he had a tally of 14 winners under NH rules, with several others on the Flat making him the much talked-about trainer of 2016.

From humble beginnings, Gavin Cromwell is now almost full to capacity with some 40 horses in training, with a good number of those two-year-olds ready to make their debut this summer.

"We have a lovely bunch of horses in at the moment," he said, "but finding staff to ride and work in the yard is proving very difficult.

"While the farrier work has given me a chance to build up the business I am now trying to juggle the two which makes the days rather long."

Four years ago he built a two-storey house beside the yard where he lives with his wife Kiva, a beauty therapist, and three young children - Jake (5), Sophie (3) and Camron (2).

Once Aintree has come and gone, Cromwell will then turn his attention to the Fairyhouse Easter Festival.

"If anything goes wrong early at Aintree we can re-route Raz De Maree to the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday but we will also hopefully have Jer's Girl, Highland Fling and Elusive Ivy for the meeting."

Unlucky to have fallen at Cheltenham when only three from home, Jer's Girl is almost certain to return to her old stomping ground for the Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle. Highland Fling, meanwhile, will be aimed at the two-mile handicap chase on Easter Sunday.

"We definitely have a couple going to Fairyhouse with a good chance. It's always a lovely, local meeting so it would be nice to have a few winners there again this year," he concluded.


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