Aintree '99: General Wolfe is ready for the ultimate battle.
IF Stephen Winstanley suffers from pre-race nerves, then he hides it well. The mastermind of The Winning Line syndicate talks about the task facing General Wolfe at Aintree on Saturday as though the gelding was going out to run at Catterick on a Wednesday afternoon. "He may be lucky with the ground because, ideally, he wants it good to soft," he says. "He goes on the soft, but he doesn't like heavy. He's also got plenty of weight but, for me, this year's National looks a fairly ordinary race. "He's best when fresh, so that's why we've given him a break of six weeks since his last race." Like the 18th-century army officer after whom the horse is named, Winstanley is a master of strategy, and it is no fluke that General Wolfe has campaigned successfully in The Winning Line colours for the past four years. He recalls: "General Wolfe beat Kadi and Maamur in a novices' handicap at Leicester in the January of 1995 and, when I came to rate the form, it looked fantastic, far better than the average Leicester chase. "I tried to buy the first three horses, and got General Wolfe. The other two both went on to win at the Festival. "General Wolfe has always looked a National type, and he's won four times at Haydock, which is the nearest thing to Aintree. But he didn't run well in the National two years ago. "It was after the bomb scare and, after 50,000 people had trampled on the course, the going was pretty firm by the Monday. He just didn't fire. You can forget that run. "At that stage he was trained by Captain Forster, who did a fantastic job, but when he retired we switched him to Venetia Williams." Spotting the talent of rookie handler Miss Williams has been one of the cornerstones of the success of The Winning Line as owners. "I used to think owning horses was a complete waste of money," admits Winstanley. "But I soon noticed how well Venetia was doing and I thought we ought to be having a few with her. We now have 16 horses in training, 12 with Venetia, and two each with Ian Williams and William Haggas. "We've just bought Cardiff Arms, who was third in the New Zealand St Leger, and the German horse Happy Change, who has had a few problems but will be out soon, probably in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr." Although all the horses run in the name of The Winning Line, the structure of the ownership varies from horse to horse. Winstanley explains: "There are 12 shares in each horse. My partner, Nigel Stewart and I retain six, and the other six are sold. There are some well-known people involved. Actor Nat Parker, who was in Vanity Fair, has a quarter-share in General Wolfe, and Mike Atherton and David Lloyd have shares in Mephitis, who is ready to run any time now." Winstanley is used to rubbing shoulders with well-known names in the sporting world, and it was his association with Manchester United that turned his head towards racing. "I was in local radio at the time, and used to follow the team around a lot. Most of them played golf in their spare time, but a few, notably Lou Macari and Bryan Robson, used to go in the betting shop and watch the racing. They weren't that successful as punters, but that's how I became interested in racing, and I then got to know Alex Bird and spent time with him. Eventually, the money I got from betting was more than my salary. "Nowadays I don't go racing that much. You hear so much guff talked on the racecourse-'this can't win, that's fancied, that one's missed work', all that sort of thing-that it's hard to concentrate. "I'd rather be at home watching on television. You can analyse it better that way. "Even when the horses run I would only go 50 per cent of the time because I feel that I've no more to offer. I've bought the horse and discussed the race with Venetia and Norman [Williamson], I've played my part, I can't influence events any more. "I didn't go to Cheltenham to see Teeton Mill run in the Gold Cup-struggling with a crowd of 50,000 didn't hold any appeal for me." BUT Winstanley will be at Aintree in the hope that General Wolfe has more luck than Teeton Mill did at the Festival. "Of the two races, I would prefer to own the winner of the Gold Cup," he reckons. "But from the point of view of the business, the National would be better. After all, they estimate 200 million watch the National, and fewer than two million watched Cheltenham." Asked, if he had a free choice, which other horses he would be interested to see representing The Winning Line in Saturday's race, Winstanley replies without hesitation: "Double Thriller. After he beat Teeton Mill at Cheltenham last year, I pestered and pestered Reg Wilkins to sell him. But he stood firm. "Of the others, I wouldn't mind Eudipe. He ran very well when second to Teeton Mill in the Hennnesy, and Cavalero is another who could run well at a big price." Add General Wolfe into the permutation and there is the National tricast nicely sorted out. A nice winning line, in fact.
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Apr 8, 1999|
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