Dog’s life for Big Fella Thanks

BIG FELLA THANKS will be out to do justice to his greyhound namesake when Harry Findlay’s eight- year-old lines up as the favourite in today’s Grand National.

The Gold Cup-winning owner will be filled with mixed emotions as his 7-1 market leader with Coral and Paddy Power jumps away to face the 30 daunting Aintree fences, just weeks after the death of his record-breaking dog.

Big Fella Thanks kicked off a 31-win sequence when beating Toy Razor in the epic Irish Coursing Derby Final at Clonmel in 1999, and Findlay is hoping his equine equal can live up to the billing.

“The dog died last month, he was unbelievable for me. When he won his trial stake everyone wanted to buy him,” said Findlay.

“He went on to win the 64-dog Derby and it was the greatest battle you have ever seen. You can talk about battles between Kauto Star and Denman, but you need to watch Big Fella and Toy Razor in the final. Big Fella went on to win 31 consecutive courses, which is a record, and he beat Toy Razor again.”

Findlay’s first National bet was a 50p investment on Becher’s refuser Boom Docker in Red Rum’s third year of success in 1977.

A radio pressed to his ear behind the goalposts at Wycombe Wanderers listening to the likes of Rag Trade and L’Escargot sparked an interest in the stamina-sapping race — but even the thrill of Aintree cannot match his passion for greyhounds.

“Paul Barber bought Big Fella Thanks the same time I bought Herecomesthetruth for approximately the same amount of money,” he explains.

“He rang me and suggested we went into partnership with the pair as he thought the horse he had bought was good enough to be named after the dog.

Big Fella Thanks spearheads a four-strong challenge for champion trainer Paul Nicholls as he bids to saddle a first National winner after 44 failed attempts.

After finishing sixth behind Mon Mome 12 months ago, Big Fella Thanks returns for a second attempt and has the added bonus of Ruby Walsh aboard after the pair scored at Newbury last month.

“He was a little bit slowly away form his fences last year and you can’t do that in a National,” said Findlay. “If he takes to it better this time he has a great chance. His weight and the ground are right for him and he has been trained for the race. Ruby fancies the horse himself and has half-trained him for Nicholls. It was Ruby who suggested dropping back at Newbury last time and I always knew he would ride him after the Kempton race.

“People thought the form of last year’s race wasn’t much good but it is worth a few pounds more now.

“As a kid I just wanted to win a coursing trial but I have won an Oaks and a Derby (with greyhounds), as well as two Hennessys and a Gold Cup so having a National as well might be too much.

“It is all about the atmosphere and to have one of the favourites — you can’t ask for more than that.”

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