Trainers salute 'Mr Aintree' following death of National legend Trevor Hemmings
Oliver Sherwood has described Trevor Hemmings as "Mr Aintree" and "a legend of jump racing" as people from across the racing industry came together to pay tribute to the late owner.
Hemmings, who jointly holds the record for most Grand National victories as an owner with three, died on Monday at the age of 86.
Donald McCain described the loss as "irreplaceable" to jump racing while Sue Smith, who had more winners for Hemmings than any other trainer, spoke fondly of her "great friend" who had a "terrific sense of humour".
Ireland's champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins was responsible for Hemmings' first Grand National winner, Hedgehunter in 2005, and he said it was an an "honour and a privilege" to have trained for him.
Jonjo O'Neill also spoke of his shock at the news, having talked to Hemmings a few days ago when formulating plans for the jumps season.
O’Neill, who trained four-time Grade 1 winner Albertas Run for Hemmings as well as last year's Ladbrokes Trophy hero Cloth Cap, said on Tuesday morning: "It's hard to think of words because I'm still in shock really – it was the last thing you expect to hear.
"I was just speaking to him a few days ago and he was in great form and looking forward to the new season. We were discussing Cloth Cap and he said, 'We'll go the same route again, only make sure you win the National this time!'.
"He was a great man and a lovely man to train for – he loved his jumping. You enjoyed him ringing up because he'd always be full of fun and devilment. It's a big loss to jump racing and he'll be sadly missed."
He added: "We had a great run with Albertas Run and had plenty of winners with him. It's a nice way for him to go but just sad for everybody else. He was a sociable chap who enjoyed life. He loved his days at the races, a winner anywhere was great for him and you could hear it in his voice how much he enjoyed it."
Hemmings' highest-rated horse on Racing Post Ratings was the Sherwood-trained Many Clouds, who won the Grand National in 2015, a Hennessy Gold Cup in 2014 and two Cotswold Chases with Sherwood.
Sherwood said: "He was a gentleman of a man and a legend in jump racing. He was very easy to deal with and to get on with. He understood the game and enjoyed the highs and expected the lows that would go with it. He was just a terribly nice man who came from humble beginnings to scale the heights.
"I can honestly say I would never have won a Grand National without Trevor Hemmings because I thought it was a year too soon for Many Clouds. He said you might as well have a crack at it because if it's not this year I might not be around next year. It was a remarkable day and one I'll never forget for as long as I live."
Sherwood added: "He was Mr Aintree wasn't he? He loved the place, it was close to him and to win it three times with three different horses I'm not sure will happen again.
"It wasn't just racing we mustn't forget – it was football and his charity work. He loved his horses and was just a gentleman – there wouldn't be a bad word to say about him from anyone."
Hemmings, a billionaire businessman famed for his philanthropy, has been a major contributor to racing for well over three decades having had his first winner in June 1985, and enjoyed his most regular success with Yorkshire-based trainer Sue Smith.
Smith spoke of her pride at providing Hemmings with his last of 12 Cheltenham Festival victories with Vintage Clouds in the Ultima Handicap Chase in March. She said: "I think we trained over the years the most winners for him and it's lovely now to look back and know we trained his last Cheltenham Festival winner for him.
"He was marvellous [to train for] because he never put any pressure on you. On that particular day Vintage Clouds was in great form and Trevor was absolutely delighted, although he couldn't be there in person.
"He was with us for a long time, possibly over 25 years and he had been a very loyal patron of ours. He had a terrific sense of humour. As well as being an owner, he became a great friend of ours and we'll miss him greatly.
"He was always very good with the jockeys and told them to go out and enjoy themselves – he was just a great man. He was a great man to deal with, we never had any problems or upsets in any shape or form."
McCain, who won the second of Hemmings' three Grand Nationals with Ballabriggs in 2011, said: "It's terrible news, he's been a wonderful man for the sport and you can't overstate what he did for National Hunt racing in the north of England. He's irreplaceable.
"It's no coincidence that he was such a successful owner because he gave you the time with horses in an era when some people don't. You knew you were allowed to do the right things for the horses' future.
"Ballabriggs was a prime example. A lot of owners wouldn't have won a Grand National with him because he had hiccups along the way. But things were never questioned. You worked along with [racing manager] Mick Meagher for the greater good and I hope his National win repaid some of the faith he had in us."
Mullins, whose victory in the Grand National came courtesy of Hedgehunter, said: "It was an honour and a privilege to train for Trevor.
"He enabled a lifelong dream of ours to come true in training Hedgehunter to win the Grand National – a day we'll never forget at Closutton. He was an owner whose heart was in the National Hunt game. A brave and game owner."
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