Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Pitmans'National; Smarty to Keep It in the Family Yet Again

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Pitmans'National; Smarty to Keep It in the Family Yet Again

Article excerpt


THINK Grand National, think the Pitmans. It is uncanny how jump racing's best-known family have become entwined with every dramatic twist of the great race's modern-day history.

First there was the haunting sight of Richard Pitman on Crisp, who jumped the course exuberantly but finished exhausted and was engulfed close to the winning line by Red Rum.

Then came Jenny, Pitman's vocal and emotional former wife, who became the first women trainer to win the race with Corbiere in 1983 and 12 years later was successful again with Royal Athlete. Yet the tears of joy that she has spilt in the winner's enclosure have often merged with hot, angry tears of frustration. Pitman's horse Esha Ness finished 'first' in the 1993 National that never was, when the race was absurdly brought to its knees by two false starts. She was also the first to condemn, live on TV to a taken-aback Des Lynam, the bomb scare that led to the 1997 running taking place on a Monday.

And let's not forget Garrison Savannah, the horse who sums up perfectly the exhilaration of the Grand National and the way it can drain all hopes of ecstasy in a few, powerless strides. Having won the Cheltenham Gold Cup weeks earlier, Garrison Savannah looked set to complete a memorable double with Richard and Jenny's son Mark in the saddle. Just like Crisp, the eight-year-old had jumped Aintree's 30 fences in awesome style, storming into a huge lead.

Just like Crisp, he ran out of juice on the run-in and was pegged back by Seagram. "I suppose I was disappointed for a few days," the junior Pitman recalled. "But I have to say I don't have any regrets. No matter how rich you are, you can't buy that sort of experience."

Mark, now 35, was seven years old when he watched his father ride Crisp on TV, and went straight to bed once the drama had unfolded.

As an injured young jockey, he was there in the winner's enclosure, with a pudding bowl haircut and his arm in a sling, to enjoy Corbiere's success. He was at Aintree last year, too, to watch a race that he could not quite believe he was seeing.

Having taken over his mother's Lambourn stables, Pitman had high hopes for his National runner, Smarty. …

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