Zara Phillips turns 'hopeless' horse into Grand National contender
When Zara Phillips found husband Mike Tindall had bought a quarter share in Monbeg Dude at an auction five years ago, she called him an "idiot"
Monbeg Dude was an unpromising prospect.
The racehorse cost Tindall - whose purchase was said to have been encouraged by a few drinks - and three other friends £12,000 but turned out to be a poor jumper of fences.
However, Ms Phillips has changed her mind after spending the last few months training the horse and is now hoping it can win the Grand National. It is a racing feat which neither the Queen or the late Queen Mother, both hugely successful racing horse owners, have achieved.
Ms Phillips has been won over by the horse, and spent time during pregnancy - she is due to give birth to her and Mr Tindall’s first child in the New Year - working on its jumping technique.
Michael Scudamore, the horse’s trainer, said: "Zara has been doing a lot of work with him and doing a really good job. We have taken Monbeg Dude to her at least four times. She has been very, very useful with the little techniques she uses to help him respect his obstacles. She has helped him to concentrate when he jumps."
Ms Phillips has earned a reputation over the past decade as a talented, brave and popular rider and has expertise in getting horses to jump from her many equestrian exploits. She was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2006 and won a silver medal at the London Olympics as part of the eventing team.
Mr Scudamore, who also owns a quarter share in Monbeg Dude, an eight-year-old gelding, said the plan to run the horse in the Grand National at Aintree was only jointly discussed by the owners after he ran a promising race when fourth at Cheltenham a week ago. The other two co-owners are James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson, the rugby players. Together the four friends have formed the bizarrely-named Oydunow syndicate.
Mr Scudamore said of the future racing plans for Monbeg Dude: "I’m not sure what route we’ll take to Aintree. He might have one or two more runs and we’d like to give him a little break at some stage. If we have a lighter season with him, hopefully we can go to Aintree with a real dream." Mr Tindall’s flirtation with racehorse ownership resulted in beginner’s luck when Monbeg Dude won the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in January, securing his owners more than £50,000 in prize money and landing several bets for his owners.
However, Mr Scudamore surprised the racing world by saying the horse would not run in the Welsh Grand National next year because the race, often held in heavy ground, is so demanding that runners can take a long time to recover from their exertions over more than three and a half miles.
Instead Mr Tindall and his co-owners have decided to gear the horse’s season around trying to win the Aintree Grand National in April.
Mr Tindall, 35, and Ms Phillips, 32, who married nearly three years ago, are expecting their first child early in the new year, only months after she became a godmother to Prince George.
Although racing has a long history in the Royal family, the Grand National, arguably the greatest fixture in the British horse racing calendar, has proved elusive.
The Queen Mother came agonisingly close to victory in the Grand National in 1956 when her horse, Devon Lock, ridden by Dick Francis, had the race at his mercy only, inexplicably, to belly-flop on his stomach on the run-in just yards before the finishing post. "Oh, that’s racing," she said afterwards.
If Monbeg Dude is ever successful at Aintree, the win would prove lucrative for the Tindalls. This year’s winner, 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore, earned its owners more than £500,000.
The horse, ridden by jockey Ryan Mania, 24, was trained by Sue Smith, whose husband Harvey Smith, 74, is a former British showjumping champion. In 1971, he famously gave the "V sign" to judges after a near perfect round.
The Grand National is watched by 70,000 people at Aintree and a television audience of more than eight million.