RACING: National jockey Maguire could be on cloud nine
IT COULD be a life-changing week for Irish jockey Jason Maguire.
This year has seen him land the job of riding the 90 horses at Donald McCain's fast-rising stable and partner a winner (Whiteoak) at the Cheltenham Festival.
On Saturday, the Stroud-based jockey, who is 28 next week, partners Cloudy Lane, the hot favourite in the John Smith's Grand National.
Cloudy Lane looks a worthy favourite. He has won nine of his 19 races and he is bred by and carries the colours of multi-millionaire owner of the Blackpool Tower, Trevor Hemmings, who won the race three years ago with Hedgehunter.
He is also in the right training yard. It is from the same stables in Cheshire that Ginger McCain, assisted by son Donald, sent out Amberleigh House to win the National in 2004.
Of course, Ginger was already an Aintree legend for saddling Red Rum to win the race an unprecedented three times from his previous base in Southport.
Now it is Ginger's 38-year-old son who holds the licence. And it is not only good judges like Hemmings who have every faith in the trainer's abilities.
"Donald is going to the top," insists Maguire, whose best effort in the National from three completed finishes, was ninth place on Tremallt in 2003.
"The stable has a good routine, he has a good bunch of lads, and he places the horses so well - he knows the form book inside out.
"It is an old-fashioned set-up and Donald keeps it simple.
And there is a familiar presence in the background. "Ginger is still on the tractor working the gallops every day and he's a great character to have around," added Maguire.
Most of all, though, it is McCain junior's patient handling of Cloudy Lane that has most impressed Maguire.
It never pays to reveal your hand before the official handicapper sets the Aintree weights and such has been the eight-year-old's improvement since he was assessed that British Horseracing Authority expert Phil Smith would now like to give the horse 20lb more weight to carry.
"Cloudy Lane first came to people's notice when winning a hurdles final at Haydock two years ago and from the day he ran third in his first chase at Aintree (over the smaller Mildmay course fences), I knew he would be a great jumper," said Maguire.
"This season he has done nothing but improve."
Maguire might be preparing for a second National victory but for showing admirable loyalty 12 months ago.
"I am great friends with Gordon Elliott, who trained last year's winner Silver Birch," he said.
"We used to go hunting together in Co Meath when we were kids, "I ride all Gordon's raiders in England and I partnered Silver Birch in his last race before the National, when second in the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival.
"Gordon wanted me to ride the horse, but I was already committed to Idle Talk for Mr Hemmings and Donald McCain.
"Of course, I had mixed feelings when Silver Birch won, but I was delighted for Gordon."
His loyalty was rewarded when he was offered the McCain job, which has led to his new-found celebrity.
"The phone's been very hot this week," he said. "I hope I am just as popular after the race.
"I rode Cloudy Lane in some work on Saturday and then schooled him on Sunday and he is flying."