‘This is the dream’: Fox-Pitt family’s home-bred wins over the Grand National fences

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  • Snow Leopardess, a fifth-generation home-bred belonging to William Fox-Pitt’s mother Marietta, became the first mare to win the Unibet Becher Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree on Saturday (4 December).

    In atrocious conditions – testing ground and strong winds – she jumped from fence to fence under jockey Aidan Coleman. The pair led from The Chair to the finish in the 3m1f race, and held on gamely from the Sandy Thomson-trained Hill Sixteen to win by a nose.

    “Marietta, my mother-in-law, is so passionate about horses and racing and her son Andrew, whose colours the horse ran in today, has worked so hard to keep this all going,” explained ITV Racing’s Alice Plunkett, who is married to William Fox-Pitt.

    “They’ve done all sorts of crazy things with her, but this was her dream to win a race over these fences. Marietta was there at her foaling – her husband Oliver died and when this mare was born, she said it was the first time it made her smile since then. She’s made us smile ever since.”

    Snow Leopardess, a daughter of Martaline, was foaled and backed at Knowlton, the Fox-Pitt family home in Kent, before being sent to Ralph Beckett at two to learn to gallop. She was then sent to her current trainer Charlie Longsdon, and despite time-outs for injury, she has always been good. Indeed, she had only once finished out of the first three four times in 18 starts.

    In her first race in 2016, she beat a Henderson hotpot (Rather Be) in a bumper race at Doncaster and she won a Listed bumper in Ireland at the suggestion of Jessica Harrington, a great friend of Marietta. Over hurdles, she won the mares’ final at Newbury and in October 2017, she won a conditions hurdle at Auteuil but she banged herself in the lorry on the way home.

    She went to Alice and William Fox-Pitt for rehab and Paul Roche had her in Ireland, swimming her in the sea off a pier. But the injury recurred and she was put in foal to Sir Percy. When she was being brought back to fitness, the resulting filly – now a two-year-old, who may go into training next year – used to trot loose alongside her.

    Last season, Snow Leopardess went chasing, finishing fourth in the National Hunt Chase, so the Becher Chase plan was hatched there and then, and there was a mighty roar as she crossed the line in front at Aintree.

    “The grannies [Marietta and Celia Plunkett] were up at 7am on the train going up there and it’s just amazing,” added Alice.

    The trainer Charlie Longsdon said: “I’m just lost for words. She’s been a very special mare for us and has won in England, Ireland and France.

    “She’s had setbacks – you name it she’s had it – but there she is again, back competing with the best. They pulled well clear of the rest and she got lonely in front. Aidan said he’d have kicked himself if they’d have got beat. She’s a dude and a one in a lifetime for a middle-sized yard like ours.

    “She was very clever all the way round – she got in a little close at Valentine’s, but she’s so quick on her feet. I have no idea what now – I know the owners are not sure whether to go for the Grand National but she doesn’t have to go there. Watch this space.

    “She is a special story and the Fox-Pitts are special people. We are just very lucky to have her and any jockey would love to ride her.”

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