Winning the Grand National is every jockey's dream. ALI KEFFORD spoke to Brendan Powell, former jockey now trainer, who was first past the post

HE'D just won the Grand National. Yet here he was sitting all on his own, with no-one to talk to about his race of a lifetime.

And it had all so nearly slipped through his hands too. Rhyme 'n' Reason had stumbled badly landing at Becher's Brook, then made a miraculous recovery. Brendan Powell hadn't heard the thousands of punters cheering him home until he passed The Elbow and approached the packed stands.

It was then, as he urged his mount on with hands and heels, that the ecstatic deafening roar of the crowd enveloped him.

The finishing post, prize presentation and television interviews all passed in a blur.

And by the time Brendan got back to the weighing room, his fellow jockeys and the valets had all gone home.

His clothes stood in the corner. Brendan sat next to them in silence. His head in a spin. "I pulled up after the race and thought 'I've just won the Grand National!' You try to be very professional when you walk inside, when all you want to do is jump in the air and go beserk," he reminisces.

"But I was there on my own. It was a bit strange really. We had a really good party when I got home that night though.

"It's great. It's something they can never take away from you. I think I only got round once more in my life."

The next year, 1989, riding Stearsby, Brendan sensed a second National win might just be within his reach.

When the horse dramatically overturned at Valentines fence he sat disconsolate on turf, tears coursing down his cheeks.

But, hey, that's racing for you.

At best it can be described as one of life's great levellers. At worst it has the capacity to make fools of us all.

Throughout the dramatic ups and downs of each of his 26 National Hunt seasons as a jockey, Brendan had an enviable reputation of being both a talented horseman - and a gentleman.

He speaks with fondness of his years in the saddle, comprising over 7,000 rides and nearly 600 winners.

Like every top 'pilot', his purple patches of success were punctuated with stints of serious injury.

It's estimated all jockeys kiss the turf roughly once every ten rides.

Tumbling from a top half a tonne of wilful thoroughbred tends to play havoc with both your bone structure and internal organs.

Brendan, however, was viewed as being harder then most and dubbed Mr Indestructable.

He makes light of the fact that he broke his femur, arm, hand collarbone, ribs, ruptured his stomach, crushed his chest, and so on.

Hard as granite this one.

As a species, what jockeys lack in stature, they make up for with hard-nosed determination.

They tend to be real characters too (natural born or the results of repeated concussion?) "You have to have a good sense of humour in this game," admits Brendan, giving one of his lads a leg-up.

"Some, like Luke Harvey, could make you laugh if your mother had just died."

Despite his intimate knowledge of the industry, Brendan had to complete a course at the British Racing School in Newmarket in order to make the switch from jockey to trainer.

He found the business studies element particularly enjoyable ("at the end of the day you never stop learning")

And such is the esteem in which he is held that, when he had his first winner as a trainer last summer, all the jockeys piled out of the weighing room in their colourful silks to cheer the horse in.

But, again, as they say in racing (normally accompanied by wise nodding and a shot of whisky) you're only as good as your last winner and there's always work to be done.

Watching horses training on Brendan's gallops in the early morning is a magical experience.

A group skitter excitedly round on their toes before setting off up the steady incline in the weak sunshine.

The dull thudding of hooves and steady huff, huff, huff of their breath are the only sounds to cut through the heavy silence of the January frost.

"It's my whole life," confesses Brendan in a soft Irish burr.

He has taken over a yard near Winchester and spent £40,000 doing it up.

But in exchanging the whip for binoculars he has hardly gone for the soft option.

Rising at 5.30am, the 40-year-old checks the legs of his 28 flat and jumping horses before his six stable lads and lasses come in an hour later to ride out three lots.

Then he's off racing all day, often not arriving back home until the evening.

"I'm not setting myself any targets but I would love to get into double figures. I'm just trying to get a few more owners.

"There's a lot of jealousy in this game - though not so much in the riding side. But when a trainer has a winner on a televised meeting on a Saturday afternoon it breaks the others' hearts.

"We schooled four horses this morning and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Riding is something I did for 26 years - it's time to leave it for the younger lads."

The experts say a horse's surroundings affect their behaviour - and their performance.

Brendan's is a happy yard, with his laid-back charm and easy-going nature permeating his budding business.

Confessing he has become much more attached to his hairy charges than he expected, he introduces them one by one.

The blacksmith is hammering away on a hoof belonging to Laidbackjack, a four-year-old with waggling ears and a glossy coat.

"Now this one's a bit of a cow," Brendan asserts pointing to a neighbouring box, where the incumbent is presently glaring moodily out across the yard.

One of the lads comes up and asks a question in an Irish accent as thick as a swirling pint of Guinness.

It's then you realise how Brendan has lost his accent in the years since he started out riding in Irish point-to-points at the age of 14 (a process said to have been given a kick start (not literally) by legendary trainer Jenny Pitman, who insisted Brendan "learned to speak English" so she could understand him).

In the kitchen of the family home, right next to the yard, daughter Jennifer, four, is splodging purple paint purposefully onto paper while two dogs play fight in the corner.

The trainer flits from a racing expert to being a dad (he and wife Rachel also have a boy of six called Brendan) and comments on the modern artwork.

Even at home, work is never far away.

There's the Racing Post on the table, photographs of Rhyme 'n' Reason on the wall and his office is just down the passage.

But Brendan's devotion to the sport pays off.

Two days after the Echo visited Brendan's yard, he has his fourth winner. Another special moment. Another landmark.

This time, thankfully, he wasn't alone after the race.