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Grand National lottery is still the best bet.

Byline: By Ian Carbis South Wales Echo

As he prepares for next week's Grand National, Welsh jockey Carl Llewellyn tells Ian Carbis about coming home in front

THE Grand National - Britain's favourite horse race.

There might be some who point to the Derby, Cheltenham Gold Cup or Ebor Handicap, but next Saturday's four-mile marathon at Aintree is the one.

It is the race that encourages grannies to part with their pennies and people who wouldn't know one end of a betting slip from the other to venture into the unknown world of the bookies.

And once there, forget the form guide. Horses are chosen because of colours, names, jockeys - or even the old favourite, pinsticking. That's why more than pounds 100m will be bet on the National next week.

But what will win? You could do worse than ask the opinion of Carl Llewellyn.

The 40-year-old Welsh jockey has won the race on two occasions and yesterday applied for a licence to start training at Weathercock House in Lambourn, the stables where Jenny Pitman sent out two National winners.

He still doesn't know what will be his 15th National ride next Saturday - either Baron Windrush or Ollie Magern - but he has an idea who'll be among the favourites.

'Hedgehunter is the one to beat, having won the race last year and showing his well-being by finishing second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup,' he said.

'Clan Royal was unlucky in 2005, being taken out by a loose horse, and (trainer) Jonjo O'Neill and (jockey) Tony McCoy will be looking to make amends.'

And Lady Luck is one of the components that Llewellyn believes makes a National winner.

'Of course you need some fortune,' said the Pembroke-born rider. 'When I won on Earth Summit in 1998 the rain came just in time because he liked softer ground.

He was also a spare ride as his regular jockey, Tom Jenks, broke his leg in the week before - and I got on Party Politics when Andrew Adams got injured.

'But you also need other things to go in your favour, the weights have to be right and the horse needs to stay.

'Obviously they are big fences, but you also have to be aware of what's going on around you. You have to be cautious and negotiate your way around the fallers and loose horses.

'And to win the National you need a good horse.'

Llewellyn is one of only two jockeys still in the saddle to have ridden the Aintree winner twice, in 1992 and six years later, and he has happy memories of them both - and both of his mounts.

'Party Politics was a fairly straightforward horse,' he said. 'For a massive horse his footwork was superb. He could adjust his stride so well.

'If you look at the fences they're way above a normal horse. But not him. That gave me confidence.

'Earth Summit was totally different. He was smallish and compact for a start. He wore blinkers because he wasn't the bravest.

'Lots of people think you need a great, brave horse for the National, but you don't. Earth Summit wasn't.

'You would not believe he would have got around a National if you'd seen him in his novice season. But as time went on he just learned to cope better and the ground suited him to a tee.'

And once he had crossed the line, Llewellyn was then escorted back to the winner's enclosure through the huge crowds - a memorable trip.

'It's amazing to see the people smiling and hear them cheering. To be led into number one spot is a dream come true, the National is always the one you want to win.

'It's the first race I can remember watching as a youngster when Red Rum was winning in 1973. There are 40 runners running away and it seems the whole nation comes to a standstill.

'It's the biggest race in the world.'

But it was hardly an auspicious start for the double winner when he began his Aintree adventure.

'I was going to lead up a horse in the race when I was 16, but I broke my wrist in a point-to-point the week before. I was absolutely gutted.

'My first ride came in 1988 on Kumbi for Ginger McCain, even though I was on painkillers because of a collarbone injury.

It had little chance, and fell at Becher's second time around, but it was a great thrill.

'Just to have a ride in it - even if you've got no chance whatsoever - gives you a buzz.' Carl Llewellyn: Born: July 29, 1965, in Pembroke.

Age: 40

Nickname: Carlos.

Status: Single (girlfriend Emma)

Height: 5ft 6in

Riding Weight: 10st

Major wins: Grand National 1992, 1998; Whitbread Gold Cup 2000; Cheltenham Festival, seven wins; Conditional Jockeys' title 1987

Hobbies: Golf, Football (a Liverpool fan). Roller-coaster rides on Beau: As well as winning the Grand National twice, the Carl Llewellyn story has clocked up a few Aintree chapters, highlighting the highs and lows of the big race

In 1997, the year the steeplechase was run on a Monday because of an IRA bomb scare, Llewellyn brought home Camelot Knight, a 100-1 shot, into third place behind Lord Gyllene.

It was an eventful weekend, as Llewellyn recalls.

'After the evacuation I was in Liverpool, walking in my silks, when a guy came out and offered me his clothes. I returned them on Monday and he backed Camelot Knight, so he was happy.'

Five years later, he chose to ride Beau instead of trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies' other runner and saw Bindaree romp home to win by two lengths from What's Up Boys.

He had to stay loyal to Beau after an incident in 2001 which put the Welshman into Aintree folklore.

After parting company at the 20th, Llewellyn ran down the track to try and catch his mount.

The jockey and horse were finally reunited thanks to a by-stander's help and, as more and more horses fell by the wayside (only four finished in the race), used the man's phone to ring trainer Twiston-Davies.

Llewellyn said: 'I asked him if I should carry on and Nigel told me to do what I thought. In the end, I decided not to remount.' Llewellyn to take the reins from Pitman: Now aged 40, Carl Llewellyn is beginning to wind down his riding career, but not his racing life.

Yesterday he went before a Jockey Club committee to be given the all-clear to take over the training licence at Weathercock House Stables, Lambourn, from Mark Pitman straight after next week's Grand National.

'I'm still enjoying riding. If there's a chance of a winner somewhere I'll be there,' said Llewellyn, on his way to Taunton races (where he guided home Kingham at 11-4).

'But it does involve a lot of travelling. If you don't put in the miles then you don't get the rewards.

'The racing business is a very intense business and they are long days, starting at 6am and finishing after 7.30pm or sometimes later.

'There's not a lot of time - or energy for that matter - for socialising. You are looking to the next day and what you are going to do then.'

Llewellyn isn't likely to miss the injuries, having suffering many broken bones, including legs and elbows through his career as he embarks on a new challenge.

'As a trainer, my priorities will change. I won't be riding so much as there will be other things I have to concentrate on.

'It's a great chance for me at a stables which has a rich sense of history, having produced Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners.

'I will still have Mark around for advice and I have had a lot of support from owners and the staff.

'I'm looking forward to it.'
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1302
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