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Rugby star Robinson hoping to be National Dude WITHAINTREE win.

Byline: Alex Bywater Sports Writer alex.bywater@walesonline.co.uk

HE once wore the most famous rugby shirt in Wales, but at Aintree this weekend, former fly half Nicky Robinson has a shot at glory in the world's most famous horse race.

Robinson, who won 13 caps in the red of Wales, has temporarily switched sports to seek success in the Grand National with Monbeg Dude, the horse he partly owns.

And Robinson has gone right to the top in his bid to become a National winner.....by even enlisting the help of the Royal Family. The horse Robinson affectionately calls 'The Dude' has attracted plenty of support throughout the week, his price shortening as National fever grips the nation.

Robinson, who owns a quarter share in the horse alongside rugby stars Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel and trainer Michael Scudamore, admits to a great deal of excitement ahead of today's show-piece. And with Tindall's wife Zara Phillips, the Queen's grand daughter, playing a key role in the horse's preparation, Monbeg Dude's build up to the race has caught the attention.

"To have a horse involved in the race is brilliant and it's great to be involved in a partnership with Mike and James," said Robinson.

"Everyone thinks Mike owns the horse which is great as I can go under the radar and jump in the pictures when it does well!

"I've got less horse knowledge than the other two and I've been known to say one or two silly things in our time. I'm known as the emotional one, but I play rugby with my heart on my sleeve and it's the same with the horse."

Monbeg Dude has already won a Welsh National and triumphed at Cheltenham, but it's Phillips' influence which is of extra interest. Phillips, who won silver as part of Team GB's eventing team at the London Olympics, has been helping the horse to maximise its potential over fences.

"Zara's influence has definitely helped - when he came on the scene there were a few little issues with his jumping," said former Cardiff Blues fly half Robinson.

"We weren't worried as he'd never fallen, but Zara thought she could help with the jumping and Michael thought it was a good idea. What was exciting was they both thought a horse which won the Welsh National could improve."

While former Gloucester teammates Tindall and Simpson-Daniel are big racing fans, Robinson's love for the sport started when he moved to Cheltenham after signing for Gloucester. It didn't take long for that interest to turn into something real, with Tindall buying Monbeg Dude at auction for PS12,000.

Robinson said: "James, Mike and I enjoyed going to the races and thought the best way to be involved would be to own one. We had a couple of loose conversations and it's all down to Mike really.

"He was bidding on the horse and he thought someone else would outbid him. No-one else did and he ended up with it! He needed someone else to get involved and I said I would take a leg. The four of us all have a share and we get on well.

"Everyone told us we wouldn't make money going into race horse ownership and if we broke even it would be a miracle! That's what happened for the first few years - the horse barely ran and had an injury. We decided to wait and see what happened and to be fair to the horse, he's never let us down when he's been fit."

Robinson's patience with 'The Dude' has been fully rewarded, the nine-year-old earning more than PS100,000 in prize money.

So what chance of adding to that with victory today? Monbeg Dude is proving popular with punters, and Robinson added: "The National is a tough race to win - we're all nervous, but hopefully it will be a good day out for all of us."

Monbeg Dude isn't the only horse with Welsh connections at Aintree today as favourite Teaforthree is hoping to become the first Welsh-trained horse since 1905 to win the big race for Pembrokeshire's Rebecca Curtis.

Also, there's two outsiders, with Evan Williams' One In A MIlan and Tim Vaughan's Golan Way also taking part.

Monbeg Dude's jockey Paul Carberry suffered an injury scare yesterday after taking a heavy fall, adn it's understood 2009 National winner Liam Treadwell is on stand-by if Carberry is declared unfit today.

To read the Nicky Robinson interview in full, just log on to....

CAPTION(S):

Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall

Nicky Robinson, left, celebrates Monbeg Dude's victory in the Welsh National with, from left, fellow <B owner James Simpson-Daniel, jockey Paul Carberry and trainer Michael Scudamore
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 5, 2014
Words:783
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