Buywise making mockery of his humble beginnings
There are unpromising beginnings and then there is Buywise, the Grand National contender which was cheaply bought as a youngster, had trouble jumping, was found to have metalwork in a hind leg and whose present owner had to be talked into taking him as a job lot with another, more obviously talented beast.
"Everyone felt sorry for me," said Hywel Jones, whose green and red colours Buywise will carry at Aintree next Saturday. "They thought I'd bought the runt."
Evan Williams, the Vale of Glamorgan trainer who has made Buywise look a wise buy, used to have serious doubts about the horse's idiosyncratic manner of getting over a fence.
"I didn't want to risk my first jockey on him in a race," Williams once said, and so Adam Wedge was on board instead of Paul Moloney when Buywise set out on his jumping career four years ago. He proved surprisingly successful, despite bashing through occasional obstacles.
At the end of his first winter as a chaser Williams had the horse scanned to see if there was a physical explanation for what Buywise was doing. Metal pins and a plate were found in his left hind leg, the legacy of an operation years before he went through the sales ring.
"They're sold as seen, you see," Williams says, philosophically. "Part of the wonderful mystery of buying horses at public auction."
His bionic leg was getting in Buywise's way to some extent but he seemed to have found his own way of coping and he continued to win prize money, even if it was usually for finishing placed. It was established that Moloney, who displaced Wedge as soon as the horse won a race, would give him time to warm to his jumping, allowing for a strong, late finish that would hopefully carry them into the argument.
Buywise became a byword for frustration among punters as he repeatedly stormed home from a mile back and found the winning post coming too soon. After a particularly heartbreaking finish in 2015, one Timeform pundit tweeted: "I could crywise."
This season something has changed. "I don't know for what reason, he's just been a different horse in the way he moves than he ever has," Williams says. "I don't know why that is, whether all that metal work in his back leg has just granulated up or what have you. Look, if I gave you a reason, I'd be making it up. All I know is he's a smoother operator at home than he ever has been."
At Sandown in January, Buywise's strong finish came in plenty of time for him to record an impressive victory, his first for three years.
Leighton Aspell, his jockey that day, urged Williams to aim the horse at the National, which counts for quite a bit, Aspell having won the Aintree race twice in the past four years.
Aspell hoped to take the ride himself next Saturday but will have to watch the race in a neck brace after an ill-timed injury. Moloney having long since retired, Wedge will be reunited with the horse he used to ride when the job was too risky for others.
Wedge is appropriately protective of Buywise's reputation and will not hear of any suggestion there might be a bit of a quirk in his attitude that has contributed to his low strike rate over the years.
"No! No, far from it. I just think he's been very unlucky. He's a lovely horse to deal with in the yard. He knows what goes on, knows the routine. He could almost train himself.
"I think he stays a lot better now. He ran in the National a couple of years ago and got round. Hopefully everything falls right on the day and we can have a bit of luck. We can all dream."
Williams has yet to win a National, though his runners have been placed five times. Buywise has a fine chance of making that six but could he actually poke his nose in front and become the first Welsh winner of the race since 1905? "I never expect too much," the trainer sighs. "I just hope they come back in one piece and anything more than that's a bonus."
Sunday Indo Sport