Anyone that has visited this outlet over a period of time – and specifically the horse racing content therein – might be aware that the occasion of Bobbyjo’s conquest of the Aintree Grand National was the first time your columnist placed a bet by himself. Admittedly, the transaction only came about after being tipped off as to the gelding’s chances by the late Bert Gill and the rest of the Blanchardstown Renault crew. Thus began a fondness for wagering on Carberry steered winners.
What it also did was cultivate something of a bountiful relationship with the world’s greatest race as winners which followed such as Papillion and Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde and Monty’s Pass were punted upon. In many recent times, the run of winners had dried up, with Arthur Moore’s enigmatic grey King John’s Castle (Paul Carberry again) coming closest to another strike.
Now, the National can be a divisive subject. As the years pass, in some cases the clamour to decry the race and cry foul about it grows. Enough ink has been devoted in the past to the need to vehemently defend what is a sporting institution. Suffice to say that the good stories which emerge surrounding the unique sporting occasion far outweigh the bad.
Think Bob Champion. Think owner Trevor Hemmings winning it multiply. Recall Mick Fitzgerald and that quote after guiding Rough Quest. Now remember a selection of remarkable stories that didn’t concern the winner. Such as Nina Carberry completing the course several times. Or Katie Walsh finishing third after getting a tasty spin round with dear old Seabass.
It’s often said that the National is a lottery, and such assessments are hard to discredit. For it is the one race in which people with little interest in or knowledge of the sport tend to have a flutter. Often by simply picking a number. Or the name of a horse that appeals to them. Or the silks in which a steed goes to war.
Even for those of us who think we know a bit about these things and – partially at least – earn our living out thereof we may as well only throw a dart and hope it lands on the winner. That, of course, doesn’t dissuade folk from inquiring as to what is ‘fancied’ for the ‘big one’. In reality, it tends to be more a case of what you’d like to see winning rather than being confident the selection actually will triumph.
This time round, such hopes were pinned on a few locally trained contenders. No surprises there. Namely, Tony Martin’s Gallant Oscar, Vics Canvass from the Dermot McLoughlin yard and, if I’m honest, most especially, my old favourite Goonyella, representing Jim Dreaper. Remarkably, a first participant in the contest for the Greenogue yard since 1988.
At this point, it must be admitted that – in the lead up to race week – my own form wasn’t hectic. A scenario not aided by the arrival of a cloudburst leading to a trip to Dunboyne’s Meath SFC opener against Duleek/Bellewstown being abandoned before it had even begun.
However, thankfully, it ended up being a case of being cheered up by local successes from a distance. Notwithstanding a below par effort from Mydor, (and the talented local hope will surely have his day soon again) and an unfortunate unseat by Gallant Oscar, nearly everything went nicely from a local perspective on Aintree’s greatest day.
You see, what construes success in the National can be different for everyone with an entrant in the early April marathon. For some, just to get a horse there at all will be a goal reached. Others will be happy as long as the dream doesn’t at the first obstacle, or before it. Then there are those who, while being cognisant of the fact that it can amount to folly to articulate notions of actually fancying yours to win will in their minds deem it possible.
And, while acknowledging that it’s utter simplicity to say so now, prior to the off it was felt that my own three selections had genuine chances in their own differing ways. Simply as Vics Canvass – for David Eiffe, Gary O’Brien of AtTheRaces and others – had previously shown an affinity with the unique challenges of the National course. Gallant Oscar seemed to fit the bill in his own way too while there surely aren’t many more consistent courageous stayers around than Goonyella.
All that, of course, can end up counting for nada in that arena. Such would certainly have been the case with the McLoughlin charge were it not for a truly heroic achievement by another Meath man – jockey Robbie Dunne – in staying aboard. To me, Gallant Oscar joins the annals of the hard luck stories synonymous with the race.
As for Goonyella, the only regret was that the pre-race deluge hadn’t arrived early enough to be properly impactful! That would be to knit pick however.
As ever, it was an occasion that certainly didn’t disappoint. A poignant Irish winner for Michael (Who? I hear you ask) ‘Mouse’ Morris – completing a unique Grand National double with Rule The World after taking the Irish equivalent with Rogue Angel, all less than a year after the tragic death of his son Christopher (‘Tiffer’).
Then there was the fairytale element – not only in terms of one trainer (and one owner) winning two Nationals in a fortnight, but also for the supremely talented horseman of justifiably burgeoning profile – 19-year-old David Mullins – doing the ultimate a jump jockey can do at his first attempt.
One needed only to witness the joyous tears of the rider’s younger brother, Charlie, to truly encapsulate what the event means to people. So it goes, too, that deriving success from an expedition on the big day is different for everyone that has a vested interest.
Some will have been delighted to just have had something in their silks partake. For some equines, the spin round Merseyside will mark the end of their racing careers. Those connected with others will have got a sight of what might be possible on a return journey. For one at least, the route back thence is already being plotted. Bring it on!