National sixth fires Aintree dream for Maxwell

Amateur enjoys big-race thrill and is already looking to 2025.

David Maxwell described riding in this year’s Randox Grand National as “better than anything I could ever have dreamed of” after finishing sixth on Ain’t That A Shame at Aintree.

Seventeenth in the hands of Rachael Blackmore when fancied for the race in 2023, the Henry de Bromhead-trained 10-year-old returned to Liverpool for a second crack at the world’s most famous steeplechase having been purchased by the property developer to fulfil his long-held ambition of riding in the National.

Sent off at 40-1, the Thyestes Chase scorer was still in contention at the second last, with the 45-year-old admitting for one brief second he allowed himself to dream of joining the decorated list of amateur pilots to win the National.

David Maxwell heading to post at Aintree
David Maxwell heading to post at Aintree (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“It was way better than anything I could ever have dreamed of and there was no way I could ever have dreamed of still being in touch at the Melling Road with two to jump,” said Maxwell.

“You look around and there were plenty of good horses who had cried enough and although there were still plenty of good horses going well, my fella was going as well as anything at that point.

“I just looked around and thought I was exactly where I wanted to be and then I looked around again and thought there are still a lot of horses still cruising here. After that I was aiming to get home and see if I could get in the first six.

“The National now is such a grade of race that you’ve basically got Gold Cup horses running in front of you and proper graded horses running in a handicap.”

David Maxwell aboard Cat Tiger in the Foxhunters in 2021
David Maxwell aboard Cat Tiger in the Foxhunters in 2021 (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Maxwell is no stranger to competing over the Grand National fences and has finished on the podium on four occasions in the amateurs-only Foxhunters’. But his first experience of going an extra circuit in the famous Aintree marathon more than lived up to his expectations.

“It was some thrill and I said to the agent afterwards that if he had put another zero on the price it would have been worth it,” continued Maxwell.

“He’s a lovely horse and he made one mistake the whole way round at the second fence after the Canal Turn. He went down to Canal Turn with me just leaving him alone – pop, pop, pop – and then I suddenly thought I was getting the hang of it and could see a stride, I went ‘one, two’ and he went three and ploughed through it.

“His ears were stuffed with cotton wool so he wouldn’t have heard me, but I said ‘sorry about that lad, I won’t do it again’. From then on I just left him to it and he’s an absolute pro.”

Some had questioned the owner-rider’s participation in the race in the build-up, with Maxwell himself pointing out an online poll had come down in favour of him sitting out the race.

With that in mind, he was conscious of his responsibility to both the famous race and his amateur colleagues, desperate not to give the naysayers opportunity to dispute amateur participation that has long been part of the fabric of the Grand National.

“It is important that I’m safe and that was my only nervousness,” explained Maxwell.

“I wasn’t nervous about riding round the course, I was nervous about making a mistake on a very big stage and it is really important that I did a good, professional job so no one could say we need to examine amateur participation or conditional jockeys in the National.

Jockey David Maxwell relaxes at Aintree
Jockey David Maxwell relaxes at Aintree (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“The thing people like about these National races is the element of chance. They are big-field handicaps and you could quite comfortably get 50-1 and 100-1 winners and when you add amateurs into the mix, there’s an extra element of chance.

“So it is important that the amateur element is not taken out because of incompetence. Being amateur is OK but being incompetent is not and you have to be competent.”

Maxwell also gave his seal of approval to the array of alterations to the race which led to no fallers and the highest number of finishers since 2005.

“It was great for racing to get 32 horses home safely and 21 finishers,” said Maxwell.

“I thought they did the right thing reducing the field size but having ridden in it, I think they could maybe try 36, I think that would be fine. It probably did just give that little bit extra room on the racecourse and at no point did it feel crowded apart from Canal Turn when everyone bunches up in the corner – there was plenty of room out there.

“They have done a brilliant job with that course and it is still a spectacle. When people say the fences are soft they are just wrong. Cat Tiger who is a very good jumper, he has a tendency to rattle one on his way round and he rattled the fifth and I came off. They still need jumping, it’s not a cake walk and fences like the Canal Turn are always going to be quite technical, jumping and turning 45 degrees at racing pace.

“I think the changes were good and the race is still a spectacle which it needs to be and it needs to be safe. We went a sensible speed out there on Saturday and I think the real winner was racing.”

Well and truly bitten by the Grand National bug, attentions now turn to returning to Merseyside with Ain’t That A Shame in 12 months time, via a prep over the famous spruce in the Becher Chase in December.

David Maxwell hopes to be a part of future Grand Nationals
David Maxwell hopes to be a part of future Grand Nationals (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Maxwell is also ambitiously plotting to break Dick Saunders’ long-held record and become the race’s oldest winning jockey.

“One hundred per cent we’re going back next year. It will be Becher Chase, Thyestes Chase, Grand National,” said Maxwell.

“The oldest winner of the National was 48 and I need to get a few more years experience in before I can think of winning it. If I aim to win it in 2028 then I will be 49. Then I would be the oldest winner of the National!

“When any National horse is coming up for sale from now on, I’m buying it!”

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