A Grand Dream

9th April 2015

Tommy’s dream

Just over 50 years ago a young American arrived in the UK with his horse looking to achieve a family dream of winning the world’s greatest steeplechase. The Museum’s Stephen Wallis takes up the story.

The cross-Atlantic horseman was Compton Smith junior, known as “Tommy” and the horse was Jay Trump, a seven-year-old dual winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Tommy’s grandfather, Harry Worcester Smith was a hunting fanatic and had a huge affection with the Grand National and fostered an ambition to win the great race.  In fact an illustrated map of the Aintree course hung above the fireplace in the drawing room of the rich Massachusetts mill-owner's family home at Middleburg, Virginia.

In 1912, Harry sailed over to Ireland on the Lusitania with his son Crompton senior and a string of seventeen horses with the target to win the 1913 Grand National.  Unfortunately his plans were halted when his son badly broke his leg in a hunting accident and Harry would not countenance using an English or Irish jockey for one of his horses.  Harry died in 1945, aged 80 his own dream unfulfilled.

However, the family dream was reignited by his grandson who, reports said, had been introduced to hunting at 3 years of age. After quitting college he renewed the family passion for riding thanks mainly due to the interest of his stepfather (his parents had divorced).  He competed in his first point to point at 20 years old and won his first Maryland Hunt Cup, the premier American jump race over 4 miles, the following year in 1959 on Fluctuate.

His great opportunity in life came in 1960 when Mrs Mary Stephenson, a friend of his mother’s, asked him to purchase a horse to win the Hunt Cup.  His choice was Jay Trump a 16.2 hh bay, bred in Pennsylvania, who had been a failure on the flat dirt tracks where as a two year old he suffered a serious racing accident which required 29 stitches to his off-foreleg.  The three year old was bought for $2,000 out of a seller by Tommy for the owner from Cincinnati, a onetime polo player and huntswoman. The horse had failed to win any races at 2 and 3.

Despite losing his first race for his new owner, a two horse Ladies Point to Point by a distance in March 1962 when ridden by a family friend, Patty Boyce, Tommy then took the ride. From the outset the partnership blossomed and their special double act won the Maryland Hunt Cup in a course record breaking time in April 1963 with some spectacular jumping.  A follow up victory in 1964 on soft ground, which the horse detested, along with two other prominent Maryland Chase wins provided the spark to venture across the Atlantic in search of Grand National glory.

But who do you choose as your trainer for a horse and jockey with no experience of British National Hunt racing?  An experienced trainer with previous success at Aintree like Fulke Walwyn or Fred Rimell would seem ideal. Smith chose Fred Winter in his first year as a trainer, who had twice ridden the winner of the great race in 1957 on Sundew and 1962 on Kilmore.

Four times champion jockey, Winter had only just set up as a trainer at the Uplands yard in Upper Lambourn, Berkshire.  Although he had no hands on experience as a trainer, he was an inspired choice for the young American being able to guide him on the intricacies and skills required by a jockey riding in Britain. Smith arrived at Uplands on 16 July 1964, just after his honeymoon and a plan was soon put in place to ensure the dual Maryland Hunt Cup winner could enter the National.

His English debut was on 21 October at Sandown Park in the Autumn Trial, in fact Jay Trump alongside One Seven Seven, who ran at Ludlow on the same day were the first runners trained by Fred Winter.  In a three runner field, the American bay, though looking big, won easily by 5 lengths at 100/30 to provide Fred with his first winner. A month later the gelding followed up with an impressive victory in the Brocas Chase at Windsor.

On both occasions Jay Trump had jumped well but Fred knew he needed to get three runs out of him before the weights were assessed for the Grand National in early January. Consequently, Winter entered the horse for the prestigious King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

The withdrawal of the mighty Mill House on the morning of the race, due to the firm ground, left Jay Trump up against only the highly rated 9 year old Frenchman’s Cove trained by Harry Thomson Jones at Green Lodges stables at the Severals, Newmarket. Nevertheless Jay Trump was outclassed by Frenchman’s Cove, who with Stan Mellor in the saddle made all the running to ease home by ten lengths.

The run ensured Jay Trump would not be given top weight for Aintree which they achieved with only 10st 6Ib being allocated to the horse when they were first announced at the end of January.

The 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Mill House topped the weights with 12st 3Ib but interestingly only three horses were set to carry over 11st and only seven over 10st 7Ib.

The gelding’s next run came at Newbury on 19 February in the Harwell amateur riders handicap chase over 3 miles where jumping into to the lead at the last he won by a comfortable length as the 9/4 favourite.   Jay Trump was now being actively talked about as a potential Grand National winner, heading the ante post lists at 14/1 with the Scottish fancy, Freddie.  Furthermore, Tommy’s riding was being noticed by the racing experts but offers to take additional rides were turned down by the American, who was focused solely on the last Saturday in March at Aintree.

Perhaps the biggest danger to the pair’s National prospects was off the course when a coughing virus struck the stables of Lambourn in early March.  Winter decided to completely isolate Jay Trump to a new barn at the rear of the yard and crossed his fingers.  But his final preliminary race before Aintree on 17 March at Worcester was a disappointing one.  He could only manage a tired looking 5th.  He drifted in price to 25/1 for the big race leaving Tommy’s mission in grave doubt with only ten days left.

Keeping the handsome American bay isolated from the main yard, Tommy and Fred carefully nurtured him. However, whilst trainer and jockey knew that the horse was a clever jumper and likely to stay the distance Tommy had still never ridden at Aintree. In order to fulfil the lifetime dream of the Smiths, Tommy received expert tuition from “Mr Grand National” himself, Fred Winter, which included viewing old newsreels of the race to show the best course to take on the demanding course.

47 runners lined up on Saturday 27 March on good going with the new top weight Freddie (11st 10Ib) the short priced 7/2 favourite, whilst Jay Trump, who with his revised weight of 11st 5Ib, joint fifth in the market at 100/6. The Queen Mother’s horse The Rip was second favourite at 9/1, Vultrix and Rondetto both 100/8 with Ayala the 1963 winner at 50/1.

Ayala fell at the first; Freddie was soon up with the leading group whilst Jay Trump was well to the rear as they approached Becher’s on the first circuit but seemed to be coping fine with the giant obstacles. The latter tactic helped at the famous fence as a group of five horses failed to negotiate it.  Continuing to follow Winter's advice Tommy was keeping to the inside, which saved him valuable ground when he jumped the Canal Turn fence.   As they crossed the Melling Road after completion of the first circuit Tommy’s horse lay in 12th place out of the 30 left standing.

A good jump at Becher’s second time round pushed Jay Trump closer to the leading group and a superb leap at the Canal Turn saw him take a leading position.  By Valentine’s the horse had moved up to 3rd place. With two to jump it was a match between Tommy and Pat McCarron on Freddie.

There then ensued a memorable struggle all the way to the finish line.  At the second last Freddie was marginally ahead but by the time they reached the last they were alongside each other.  “It’s America and Scotland as they reach the last fence,” an excited BBC commentator Peter O’Sullivan yelled at viewers. Surprisingly although Jay Trump went through the obstacle he gained a length advantage as Freddie was the first to come under pressure.

Just before the elbow the Scottish horse began to draw closer, but after originally using his whip, Tommy switched to hands and heels and withstood the final push by the favourite to win by three quarters of a length.  In total 14 horses finished the race, the Queen Mother’s ten year old The Rip being one of them in 7th place.

The Edwardian family dream of Harry Worcester Smith had been fulfilled by his grandson who had never before ridden at Aintree on a horse used to the timber fences of Maryland.  Tommy had, apart from his misjudged use of the whip in the finishing straight, which the horse didn’t like, carried out his master, Fred Winter’s instructions to the letter.

The horse had become the first Grand National winner to be American bred, owned and ridden. Rubio in 1908 had been the first American bred winner, whilst famously Battleship, ridden by a 17 year old Bruce Hobbs in 1938 was in addition owned by an American.  To complicate matters for all those experts, Bruce Hobbs was born in Long Island, New York before his family moved to this country when aged two.

Fred Winter had remarkably won the world’s greatest steeplechase in his first year as a trainer.  Incidentally in 1966 he followed up this success with Anglo.

Three months later, following their spectacular success the Uplands team decided to enter the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris at Auteuil in France.  The race was familiar to Fred Winter as he had memorably won the race on Mandarin in 1962.  Although Jay Trump delivered another wonderful jumping performance, he was still in the lead as they jumped the last, he faded to finish 3rd, beaten by only 2 ½ lengths.

After the duos gallant attempt in France they returned home to America where in April 1966 they won their 3rd and final Maryland Hunt Cup by eight lengths.  Whereupon the partnership ended with Tommy soon setting up as a trainer whilst Jay Trump spent his retirement with Mrs Stephenson and the Camango Hounds, Ohio.  Jay Trump had won 13 of his 29 races being placed in 7 others.

Tragically in 2001 Tommy was left as a quadriplegic after a horse he was riding tripped and fell. Twelve years later on 5 March 2013 Tommy Smith died. Meanwhile, Jay Trump was humanely destroyed at the advanced age of 31 on 24 August 1988. He was then buried at the finish line of Kentucky Horse Park’s steeplechase course at Lexington.

Personally I am returning to watch the world’s greatest steeplechase for the first time since 2009 anticipating another exhilarating day out amongst the vast crowds that swell the grandstands of Aintree.

I wonder what lies ahead this week.   Whatever happens at shortly after 4.25pm on Saturday, someone else’s dream will be reported in many of the world’s media outlets.  Few stories will be as amazing as a 26 year old American winning the world’s most famous race at his first attempt on an American horse unfamiliar to the rigours of Aintree.  But a win for AP McCoy and Shutthefrontdoor would probably surpass anything the race has ever seen in its history.