A National treasure

Harvey Smith is the only man to have won both the Hickstead Derby and trained a Grand National winner. Victoria Spicer reflects on his remarkable achievement.

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"It's one of those events, a bit like the Grand National, where it's not just the runners and riders that make the headlines but the course itself," said TV presenter Clare Balding in the book 'Hickstead: A Golden Celebration'. She was right - it takes a special type of horse to conquer the Derby Bank and the Devil's Dyke; or Becher's Brook and the Chair.

To win either title would propel you into the history books, but now one man can claim to have won both. Harvey Smith, one of the most famous names in showjumping, won the Hickstead Derby four times, in 1970 and 1971 (Mattie Brown), 1974 (Salvador) and 1981 (Sanyo Video). If that wasn't enough, earlier this year Auroras Encore - a horse trained by Harvey and Sue Smith - won the John Smith's Grand National, the most watched horse race in the world.

Following Harvey's retirement from showjumping in 1990, the pair began training National Hunt horses together at Craiglands Farm in West Yorkshire, with Sue officially taking the mantle of trainer and Harvey that of assistant, though they're very much a team. The husband and wife team have immaculate racing and equestrian credentials. Sue was an international showjumper who also rode under Rules; Harvey was one of the best showjumpers in the world. If anyone has experience in managing equine athletes, it's these two.

Harvey won multiple medals at European and World Championships, competed at two Olympic Games and won countless Grands Prix, but after Auroras Encore won the Grand National there was one particular moment in his showjumping career that every newspaper in the land mentioned - and that was the famous Hickstead V-sign.

The story will be familiar to most. Having won the Hickstead Derby in 1970 on Mattie Brown, he returned the following year without bringing back the trophy, so certain was he of repeating his win. He claimed to have forgotten, and after some persuasion the trophy was sent for. Sure enough, Mattie Brown went into a jump-off with Steven Hadley and Prospero; with the latter knocking three fences in the jump-off while Harvey and Mattie Brown picked up eight faults to win.

But the BBC cameras were to catch Harvey's infamous V-sign, flicked in the direction of the members' stand and the directors' box. He claimed to have been making a 'V for Victory sign', but Hickstead founder Douglas Bunn took a stand and Harvey was disqualified and had his first prize of £2,000 removed.

A massive row broke out - with showjumping dominating the front pages, and the matter referred to British Showjumping stewards. Finally the title and prize money were reinstated, with Harvey donating £150 to the Riding for the Disabled Association, and the 'Harvey Smith sign' entered the British vocabulary.

More than forty years later, Harvey was back in the headlines for all the right reasons with Auroras Encore's Grand National victory. The 66-1 outsider, ridden by Grand National debutant Ryan Mania, produced a superb performance round Aintree's fences, winning by 9 lengths. It's one race that every trainer and jockey wants on their CV, and now Harvey Smith can add it to his. But it won't overshadow his many achievements in international showjumping. "This is just conquering England," he said after the race. "I sort of went out and conquered the world."

7 things you may not know about Harvey Smith 

  1. Harvey and Sue Smith have around 50 National Hunt horses in training at their yard in West Yorkshire.

  2. BBC once filmed Harvey jumping round Aintree's fences.

  3. Both Harvey's sons, Robert and Steven Smith, have showjumped in the Olympic Games.

  4. Harvey's final Derby win was on board Sanyo Video. The horse was usually ridden by Robert Smith, but he was on a one-month suspension, so Harvey took on the ride.

  5. Harvey used to compete in professional wrestling, and once released a pop single.

  6. He carried the Olympic torch on horseback at York Racecourse during the London 2012 torch relay.

  7. In 2010, he won a Lifetime Achievement award from British Showjumping.

This article first appeared in June 2013 

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