Big Fella Thanks was named by part-owner Harry Findlay after his favourite greyhound, who won the National Coursing Derby at Clonmel in 1999 and still lives with the professional punter at his home near Bath. The Primitive Rising gelding made two appearances in Irish point-to-points for Liam Burke, beating stablemate Herecomesthetruth in a Carrigtwohill maiden in February, 2007, and coming a neck second in a winner of one at Ballyragget the following month. He joined the Ditcheat yard of Paul Nicholls soon after and made his UK debut in a maiden hurdle at Chepstow in January, 2008, when he beat Buck The Legend by 10 lengths. He followed up with another convincing success under a penalty later the same month, taking a novice hurdle at Taunton by nine lengths, despite idling in front, and finished his first campaign with a good second in an Ayr handicap hurdle in mid-April. Big Fella Thanks began this season in a beginners’ chase at Chepstow on October 25, making most of the running prior to being headed near the line by Wichita Lineman and West End Rocker. He also tired in the closing stages on his next appearance at Cheltenham on November 15, when coming home second to Ballyfitz, and application of blinkers appeared not to have the desired effect in a beginners’ chase at Taunton on his next appearance on December 11, when Big Fella Thanks was collared near the line by Itsa Legend. Further disappointment followed in a handicap chase at Kempton on December 27, as he unseated Christian Williams at the third last. Big Fella Thanks finally opened his account over fences in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on January 24, when he produced a far more confident round of jumping to take the lead three fences out before staying on well to beat the previous year’s runner-up Ungaro by 11 lengths. Following such an impressive display, Big Fella Thanks was sent off a warm 7/2 favourite for the Grade Three Racing Post Chase at Kempton on February 21, but could not catch the front-running Nacarat and eventually stayed on to take third behind the Tom George-trained chaser and Possol.
Race Record: Starts: 9; Wins: 3; 2nd: 3; 3rd: 2; Win & Place Prize Money: £76,122
Paul Barber and Maggie Findlay
Paul Barber’s family have farmed near Ditcheat since the 1830s and he oversees a 2,000-strong dairy herd on 3,000 acres, having started with 150 cows on 150 acres, that now produce 45 tonnes of cheese daily for Barbers and Maryland Farmhouse Cheese, run by Paul’s brother Nicholas. Paul - who has been allergic to cheese since the age of five - was born on December 31, 1942, on the kitchen table in the house where he still lives, stating “I’ve never thought about living elsewhere” and despite no family involvement with racing, has been an owner since his purchase in 1958 of a horse that cost £450 and had to be paid for instalments. He has never owned a Flat horse and his first winner was Crazy Slave, who scored in 1963, and his main flagbearers have been the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman (owned with Maggie Findlay) and the 1999 scorer See More Business. He paid £82,000 for Denman and refuses to pay over the odds for a horse after stung when making a couple of expensive purchases following See More Business’s success. “Back then I bought a couple of horses which to my mind cost too much money. One thing all horses have in common are that they are bloody expensive,” he said recently. Others to carry his colours include See More Indians, who won eight races out of 14, and the John Thorne-trained Artifice. Barber owns Nicholls’s Manor Farm Stables, initially converted from a cow shed, and his house overlooks Denman’s stable. Many of his best performers have had an initial grounding in point-to-points, either with Liam Burke in Ireland or Barber’s brother Richard - who has trained four Festival winners - at Seaborough in Dorset. Barber’s partner in many of his horses is professional gambler Harry Findlay. Like many of Findlay’s horses, Denman runs in the name of his mother Margaret, like his late father a former nurse from Glasgow. The London-born Findlay, who lives near Bath, is a one-time greyhound trainer who is best known as a fearless high-stakes punter. He is a regular winner of the Tote’s Scoop 6 bet and specialises in long odds-on bets on Betfair but met his biggest reverse when losing £2.7 million after backing New Zealand to win the 2007 Rugby World Cup. He met Paul Barber at Doncaster sales and the duo have teamed up to own a number of promising performers which - apart from Denman and Big Fella Thanks - include Racing Post Chase winner Gungadu and Desert Quest, who landed the 2006 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle. He now has a total of around 80 horses in training, including a large Flat team. Many of his more recent recruits are owned in partnership with top poker player Tony Bloom.
John Smith’s Grand National Record (Paul Barber): 1996 Deep Bramble (PU bef 29th); 1998 General Crack (PU bef 11th)
Paul Nicholls, the son of a policeman, was born on April 17, 1962, and has been training at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset, since taking out a licence on November 1, 1991. He started out in racing as a jump jockey and twice rode the winner of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury, in 1986 on Broadheath and a year later on Playschool. Nicholls partnered 130 winners between 1980 and 1989, struggling always to keep his weight down, and nominates the best horses he rode as Broadheath, Playschool and Seagram. Between 1989 and 1991, he was assistant trainer to Devon-based David Barons, who sent out Seagram to win the 1991 Grand National at Aintree during that time. He started out at Paul Barber's Manor Farm with eight horses. Having strongly challenged Martin Pipe for the jump trainers' championship over a number of years, most notably when pushing his great rival right to the last day of the 2004/05 campaign, Nicholls claimed his first title the following season, being responsible for 148 winners and gaining over £2.4 million in prize money. He retained the title the next season with 124 successes and nearly £2,950,000 in prize money. The hugely talented Kauto Star was the stable's flag-bearer, with victories in the bonusprint.com Old Roan Chase at Aintree, the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park, Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase, the King George VI Chase at Kempton, Newbury's AON Chase and the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. Kauto Star thus became the first horse to land the Betfair Million, the huge bonus put up by the leading betting exchange to a horse successful in the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. Kauto Star’s halo slipped slightly in 2008 but it was Nicholls who also trained his conqueror in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, the mighty Denman. Nicholls saddled the first three home in the race with Neptune Collonges taking the third spot and the Ditcheat handler ended the campaign as champion trainer once again with 151 winners, accruing over £4 million in prize money. Nicholls pulled off the amazing feat of saddling seven winners and three seconds from his 10 runners on Saturday, November 7, 1998, and made history when he became the first trainer to saddle six winners on the same card, at Wincanton, his local track, on Saturday, January 21, 2006. His 1,000th British winner came when Noble Action won at Folkestone on November 15, 2004. Another high point in his training career came at the 1999 Cheltenham Festival when he captured the major chase on each of the three days - Flagship Uberalles scored in the Irish Independent Arkle Chase, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following day and, best of all, See More Business took the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nicholls has trained 25 Cheltenham Festival winners in total, and was the most successful trainer at The Festival in 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. This season he has swept all before him, winning a series of big races with the champion Kauto Star, who became the only horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup and also won his third King George VI Chase. Neptune Collonges landed the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, Big Buck’s captured the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Master Minded won his second Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Denman showed that the flame was still burning following his illness when runner-up to Kauto Star in the Gold Cup. His seven victories at the 2009 Festival represent a new record.
John Smith’s Grand National Record: 1992 Just So (6th); 1996 Vicompt De Valmont (10th), Deep Bramble (PU bef 2 out), Brackenfield (UR 19th); 1997 Straight Talk (Fell 14th); 1998 What A Hand (Fell 1st), Court Melody (Fell 6th), General Crack (PU 11th); 1999 Strong Chairman (15th), Double Thriller (Fell 1st), 2000 Earthmover (Fell 4th), Torduff Express (Fell 13th), Flaked Oats (Fell 20th), Escartefigue (UR 30th); 2001 Earthmover (Fell 4th); 2002 Murt’s Man (PU bef 17th), Ad Hoc (BD 27th); 2003 Montifault (5th), Fadalko (UR 6th), Ad Hoc (UR 19th), Shotgun Willy (PU bef 22nd), Torduff Express (UR 27th); 2004 Exit To Wave (PU bef 9th); 2005 Royal Auclair (2nd), Heros Collonges (8th), L’Aventure (15th), Ad Hoc (Fell 22nd); 2006 Royal Auclair (Fell 1st), Le Roi Miguel (PU bef 19th), Cornish Rebel (PU bef 19th), Silver Birch (Fell 15th), Le Duc (UR 8th), Heros Collonges (UR 15th); 2007 Royal Auclair (Fell 9th), Le Duc (UR 6th), Eurotrek (PU bef 22nd), Thisthatandtother (PU bef 30th); 2008 Cornish Sett (12th), Mr Pointment (PU bef last), Turko (Fell 25th).