There is no finer sight than a bold jumping front-runner clearly having the time of their lives over the Grand National fences and it is even better when they hold on for victory like Snow Leopardess managed in the Unibet Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree.
Her story is well known by now – having shown promise in her early career in bumpers and over hurdles, which included a Grade Two success at Newbury and a win in France, she was then off the track for two years with injury.
However, rather than just convalesce, her time on the sidelines was put to good use and she was sent to stud to visit Derby winner Sir Percy, with the resulting filly now a two-year-old.
Having done her maternal duties Snow Leopardess was returned to Charlie Longsdon’s care and while it is not a unique situation, it is certainly rare that the mare still has the same zest for racing, certainly at a high level.
But the grey nine-year-old has returned better than ever. She won at Haydock in deep ground last season, was second in the Rowland Meyrick and fourth at the Cheltenham Festival and this year has reached new heights.
First time out at Bangor her spring-heeled jumping was once again in evidence and if one horse was a certainty to take to the National fences, it was her.
Sure enough she devoured them, putting in huge leaps when she met them on a stride and showing her versatility when getting in close.
With half a mile to go half the field had cried enough as Snow Leopardess enjoyed a 10-length lead – but Aidan Coleman was keen to save a bit for the famous run-in, allowing Hill Sixteen and the resurgent Ryan Mania to close to within two lengths.
The mare appeared to have done enough reaching the elbow, but as so many have before she found the final 100 yards the hardest as Hill Sixteen gained with every stride, ultimately just failing to get there by just a nose.
Coleman said: “They were tough conditions and she just got lonely after the last, the poor thing. I would have been absolutely sick if we had got beat.
“I was thinking to myself that was the best fun of my life in possibly not winning! She really deserves it.”
Longsdon was overjoyed at the result as the 4-1 favourite delivered on a long-term plan. Whether she runs in the Grand National, for which Betfair gave her a 25-1 quote, is another matter.
“She got lonely in front and on that ground you do, don’t you, but she jumped beautifully. This has been the plan for a long time. I’m lost for words. She’s a very, very special mare,” he said.
“She’s won in England, Ireland and France, had legs (tendon injuries) twice, had a foal…you name it, she’s had it. But there she is again, competing with the best.
“Aidan said he would’ve kicked himself if she’d got beat, but she’s a dude. She’s a one in a lifetime for a medium-sized yard like ours.
“She was very clever in front the whole way round, so quick on her feet. What does she do now? Good question, I’ve no idea! The Grand National is the obvious one, but the owner is wary of that and she doesn’t have to go there.
“She will have to have an entry, but she’s worried about 40 runners in the field and I can understand that. Watch this space.”
Recounting his winner’s eventful life to date, he went on: “She won a Listed in Gowran, won a Grade Two novice at Newbury, went to Auteuil in the autumn and picked up a leg there. Then she went and had a foal to Sir Percy which is now a two-year-old filly.
“She came back and had a slight touch again. So she came back again and went chasing. Last season she won at Haydock in dreadful conditions, came second in the Rowland Merrick, won at Bangor and has always loved her jumping.
“She’s a dude of a mare – not bad for a working mum. It will be interesting if she’s still in training next season and her daughter comes in training too. If they are in training together that will be a rarity.”