VIDEO: Grand National champ Leighton Aspell declares shires the winners

Leighton Aspell and Mattie Batchelor
Leighton Aspell and Mattie Batchelor

Grand National winning jockey Leighton Aspell was celebrating one of the ‘biggest’ wins of his careers last night – on board a 17.2 hand Shire Horse.

The champion was delighted to be presented with a winning rosette after taking first place riding Flash, in Lingfield Park’s award-winning Shire Horse Race.

The victory declared the Shires the winners in the Showerking Flying Feathers Heavy Horse Stakes as the English breed took on their Scottish Clydesdale counterparts in a head-to-head.

Afterwards in the Winning Enclosure, Jacquie Gardiner, from the organisers of the race, Hurst Green Shires, threw her arms in the air in delight: ‘The Shires are definitely the winners,’ she laughed.

Leighton, who has won the Grand National two years in a row, joked: ‘It was harder than the National!’

This year the two-furlong race was a battle between the two Heavy Horse breeds.

The fact that there is even more of a competitive twist this year with the Shires v. the Clydesdales, has made it even more exciting

Andrew Perkins

The ‘Showerking Flying Feathers Heavy Horses Stakes’ once again showed off the versatility of these gentle giants as they thundered two furlongs down the track.

Jacquie, organiser of the race for the past three years, said ‘This race is about, yet again, proving the versatility of these great horses along with highlighting their endangerment as breeds. We were determined to show that these fantastic horses have a place in the 21st century. This year’s theme of Shire vs Clyde showcases the differences in these two types and introduced a bit of friendly rivalry between the breeds.’

The history of the Shire and Clydesdale is intertwined. The Clydesdale was developed for use from the Scottish borders and upwards and the Shire was for Middle England but both became very popular as working horses for industry and agriculture. Their slightly different build made them suited to the different types of ground they were working with. With the onset of the Great War, huge numbers were requisitioned from around the country to serve in the army. This and the subsequent mechanisation of farming left the breeds at critical numbers in the 1970s. A breeding program and some very determined farmers and producers saved these beautiful animals for future generations but they remain endangered.

Top National Hunt jockeys saddled up to try and win the coveted title in a race which earned national recognition when it was launched in 2013. Judges praised the innovation of the event as they awarded the Surrey racecourse overall winners of the Events category at the annual Racecourse Association Showcase & Awards.

Andrew Perkins, Executive Director of Lingfield Park Resort, said he was delighted to welcome back Hurst Green Shires, sponsors, Showerking and all the heavy horse fans: ‘I’m thrilled we are once again able to stage this fabulous race.

‘The fact that there is even more of a competitive twist this year with the Shires v. the Clydesdales, has made it even more exciting.’

Julie Reilly of sponsors Showerking said: “We are pleased to support this race for the third year running. We are very grateful to the owners of these animals for making this event possible – there is nothing more thrilling than watching those feathers fly down the track. There will be plenty of opportunity for the public to meet the contestants after the race and we’re looking forward to showing them off”

As well as the Shire Horse race there are seven thoroughbred races on the all-weather and turf tracks and a host of entertainment for the family at this Countryside Day.

Jazz musicians from neighbouring Notre Dame School were be on hand to show off their skills, while children were being kept busy meeting small petting animals from Godstone Farm, all eight competing heavy horses and two miniature Shetlands who added to the multi-equestrian feel of the day.