A week ago today, James King won the Foxhunters’ at the Grand National Festival for the second time as the 66-1 outsider Cousin Pascal sprung a surprise on Merseyside.
Amateur jockeys missed the Cheltenham Festival but with an ease in covid-19 restrictions at the turn of the month, they were able to return in time at Aintree for the three-day fixture.
The point-to-point scene is now back in full flow and for riders like James, this means a return to some form of normality after its suspension in Janaury.
You landed the Foxhunters’ at Aintree aboard Cousin Pascal – given he’d won his previous start, were you confident on his chances in spite of how much he had to find on ratings?
I was confident he’d run well, it is always good for a horse coming into a race off the back of a win. All he had done since Joe got him at the back end of last year was improve. Joe assured me that he would be suited to the fences and was in the form of his life, and he was right. The BHA handicapper has raised him another 17lb to an official rating of 135 now.
It was a bold, prominent ride – was that your game plan or just how the race panned out?
Yes, my plan was to be very positive and stay out of trouble. In races like these, there is always a cavalry charge over the first few and lots of jostling for positions. After getting a good start, I steadied it up down the side of the course and got into a great rhythm jumping and galloping. In my previous rides over the fences, I kept to a similar game plan, and they worked out well for me.
You’d won the race previously on Dineur for Mickey Bowen back in 2017. How key is the experience of the National fences compared to a normal steeplechase?
Winning the race previously on Dineur was a great achievement after finishing a gallant second the year before to On The Fringe. I’m not sure experience over the fences is key as Cousin Pascal was tackling them for the first time as oppose to Dineur who had shown a liking for them on his previous attempt over them.
Over the weekend, you enjoyed wins at Shelfield Park (1) and Mollington (2) – what would you say is your drive and motivates you to keep riding winners?
Yes, I had a great weekend racing at both Mollington and Shelfield Park with 3 winners combined and numerous placings. I think the kick you get out of riding a winner is amazing and the thirst for more is what drives you.
Amateur riders missed the Cheltenham Festival; how did you keep yourself occupied without point-to-pointing?
It was very disappointing for amateurs to miss Cheltenham this year – although, I’ve never really had much luck around there! Horses are always being worked and it was obviously great to be back for Aintree.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Let the fences come to you.
If you could recommend a point-to-point track for a racegoer to visit post-coronavirus, where would you say?
My local and favourite track is Maisemore Park. It’s great racing and a great day out. The viewing is exceptional for the spectators and the track is fair to ride round.
In the battle for the jumps jockey championship, who are you siding with between Harry Skelton and Brian Hughes?
He started off in the British point-to-point ranks and has come right through.