Grand National: British hopes rest on Lake View Lad against Irish might
|Randox Health Grand National|
|Date: 6 April Venue: Aintree Racecourse Time: 17:15 BST|
|Meeting: 4-6 April Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live, sports extra and sport website; more details|
As Nick Alexander prepares to saddle Lake View Lad as his first runner in the Grand National, his telephone has been buzzing with inquiries.
This exuberant grey is, after all, a leading hope for Britain against the might of the Irish and, after winning his first two races of the jumps season, he made a strong case for further Aintree consideration with a sterling performance when a top-weight third in a handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
But the queries coming down the phone lines may be nothing compared to those fielded one day in Alexander's previous existence as an entrepreneur - at the time, financial director of a small cosmetics manufacturer in Glenrothes, Fife, not far from his current training base.
"There was some hair gel that we'd sent into the south side of Dublin," he said. "One morning we got a complaint from someone who said their hair had gone orange through using this gel.
"By lunchtime, more unhappy people had phoned in to say the same thing, at which point we realised we must have got the potion wrong.
"I didn't mix it, but took the calls - it gave me a big and speedy lesson in customer service."
- Grand National 2019: Quick guide to entries
- Six potential Grand National runners to watch
- Grand National schedule & BBC coverage
In between cosmetics, a graphics business and stockbroking, horseracing was Alexander's and his family's principal hobby. His father Cyril owned and trained Sulbaltern, winner of the Aintree Fox Hunters' Chase in 1966, while Nick and his three brothers were dubbed the 'Fearsome Foursome' when all riding, with varying degrees of experience, in a five-runner point-to-point-race, which none managed to win.
From 2007, he turned to full-time training, largely self-taught from racing autobiographies and "sponging" information from trainers including Aidan O'Brien in Ireland and Guillaume Macaire in France.
In a walk of life where skill-sets tend towards the equine rather than the commercial, Alexander, whose family founded a large bus company at Falkirk, brings a striking business psyche with him.
He said: "I can tell you precisely that of every pound I charge in training fees I'll spend 55p on labour costs, and I'll spend about 18p on feed and bedding - I like to know the dynamics of the business and I'm anxious to make sure it's sustainable.
"There are plenty of owners who've come here asking for a deal [on training their horses] and I say no because we're not making enough money to do you a deal."
Lake View Lad and around 40 other horses are based at Kinneston, an operation perched on the edge of Scotland's Lomond Hills with appropriately scenic lake views across the watery expanse of Loch Leven.
The area has a long and colourful history, with natural waters from the closest village, Scotlandwell, said to have provided healing powers to cure King Robert the Bruce of leprosy.
The story is certainly good enough for Alexander and his team; a source in the hills supplies the whole 800-acre farm, and when sent to the racecourse runners are accompanied by their own brimming containers.
It all seems to be having a favourable effect, with the horses on target for their best-ever season and members of staff thriving at recent awards ceremonies.
Though a majority of the runners are partnered by the trainer's jockey-daughter Lucy, a former champion conditional (jumps apprentice) rider, multi-millionaire businessman Trevor Hemmings, who took over ownership of Lake View Lad when a change of circumstances forced previous owner Alistair Cochrane to sell, has plumped for Henry Brooke to be on board the nine-year-old at Aintree.
In contrast to the trainer, who's never even been to Grand National day, Hemmings - saviour of Preston North End when taking a controlling interest in the football club in 2010 - is looking for a record fourth success in the race, after Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).
His green, yellow and white silks will also be carried by another leading fancy, the Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds, runner-up in the Cheltenham Festival race in which Lake View Lad finished third.
After acknowledging the obvious chances of Vintage Clouds, of last year's winner Tiger Roll and of the Cheltenham Gold Cup second Anibale Fly, Alexander says he just hopes his contender gets the good fortune required to be in the mix himself.
Victory would also mean Scottish racing's second in three stagings after One For Arthur, trained by near-neighbour Lucinda Russell, in 2017.
He said: "At the end of the day we're in the hands of the gods because we don't know what the weather's going to do - he's better and more competitive on soft ground.
"And then there's the actual luck in the race itself, and the luck of the opposition. Granted a clear round for Lake View Lad and Tiger Roll and Anibale Fly, can our horse beat either of those two? And there are 37 others to consider too.
"Hopefully he gets some luck so we get to see how well he can run.
"I'm trying not to think too much about it, but that was an exceptional performance at Cheltenham, and yes it's a very big day for all of us."