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Dublin: 7°C Monday 21 September 2020

Irish Grand National triumph has Ruby dreaming of conquering Aintree with Burrows Saint

He may be only six, but the sky is the limit after Easter Monday’s success for Willie Mullins, writes Donn McClean.

Jockey Ruby Walsh after winning The BoyleSports Irish Grand National with Burrows Saint.
Jockey Ruby Walsh after winning The BoyleSports Irish Grand National with Burrows Saint.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

MONDAY WAS A feelgood day at Fairyhouse. Easter Monday.The sun shone and the people gathered and all the elements conspired to create a special atmosphere before the horses left the parade ring for the BoyleSports Irish Grand National.  

The Garda band played Amhrán na bhFiann as the runners circled at the start, and you weren’t certain if starter Joe Banahan was going to raise the tape or throw the ball in.

There were many sub-plots to the Irish Grand National story this year.  There usually are.  

Gordon Elliott was bidding for his second Irish Grand National, his second in two years. JP McManus was well-represented in his bid to land a fourth, some 36 years after he landed his first with Bit Of A Skite. Gigginstown House were bidding for their fifth, their fourth in five years.

Hear The Echo was the first Gigginstown House Irish National winner. That was in 2008, when rider Paddy Flood wore the maroon cap with the white star. Katie Walsh wore the white cap when she won on Thunder And Roses in 2015. Ger Fox wore the blue cap when he won on Rogue Angel in 2016. JJ Slevin wore the red cap when he won on General Principle last year. There were caps of many shades in the parade ring on Monday too, and you wondered how the commentators did it.

Tout Est Permis, number one, top weight, first cap. Maroon with white star. (And he’s the grey one.)  General Principle, red cap, same as last year.  After that, it must have been like learning your 17-times tables.

General Principle was back for more, bidding to become the first horse since Brown Lad in 1977 and 1978 to land back-to-back runnings of the race. JJ Slevin was on Shady Operator in his bid to become the first rider to win back-to-back renewals on two different horses since Pat Taaffe achieved the feat on Royal Approach and Umm in 1954 and 1955

And Willie Mullins was bidding to land his first.

It was one of the anomalies of National Hunt racing (it was – sorry for the spoiler) that Willie Mullins had never won the Irish Grand National.  He had his first runner in the race in 1998 – Padashpan, pulled up – and he had gone close in the past. Quiscover Fontaine finished fourth in 2011. Away We Go finished second in 2013, beaten a half a length by Liberty Counsel.

Last year, he went closer still. Bellshill looked a likely winner on the run to the last, and Isleofhopendreams was ultimately beaten a head by General Principle. And, we didn’t know it at the time, but if Kemboy hadn’t fallen at the first fence last year, racing, as he was, off a handicap rating of 145, 29lb lower than his rating now, he surely would have gone close.

Even so, as the clock ticked around towards five o’clock on Monday afternoon, if you had leafed through Willie Mullins’ CV looking for the Irish Grand National, you wouldn’t have found it.

The champion trainer fielded seven runners in Monday’s race. Burrows Saint was number one, no question. The progressive novice, the market leader, the choice of Ruby Walsh. All seven had chances, but they thinned out.

Pairofbrowneyes fell at the fourth fence and C’Est Jersey fell at the sixth. Total Recall raced exuberantly, led the field up on the outside for a circuit, jumped to his left. The field reeled him in as they raced up by Ballyhack for the final time, and he tired in the back straight.

By then, however, the other four Willie Mullins horses raced in second, third, fourth and fifth places. Ruby Walsh on Burrows Saint, waiting, stalking, hunting down breakaway leader Whisperinthebreeze. By the time they reached the top of the home straight, Burrows Saint had ghosted into the lead.

Flanked by his stable companions, Acapella Bourgeois to his right, Isleofhopendreams to his left, he travelled well over the second last fence under his motionless rider, he jumped the final fence about a length and a half up and, while Isleofhopendreams mounted a spirited Irish Grand National challenge for the second time in as many renewals under Danny Mullins, it never really looked like Burrows Saint was going to be caught.

Ruby Walsh on Burrows Saint wins The BoyleSports Irish Grand National Ruby en route to victory on board Burrows Saint. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was a third Irish Grand National for Ruby Walsh, and that was important.  You could see how much it meant to the rider. And it was a first for owners Rich and Susannah Ricci. And a first for Willie Mullins. Finally. A 1-2-3 in the Irish Grand National for Willie Mullins. A 1-2-3-5. Just five weeks after he had landed his first Cheltenham Gold Cup.

It was a massive day, a landmark day. You take the time to appreciate the achievement, but you are allowed to think of the future too. Because Burrows Saint is only six. He could have a big one.

It is interesting that Ruby Walsh spoke afterwards about the Aintree Grand National next year, please God. About having a go at Tiger Roll. That would be a fascinating clash.

It wouldn’t be easy. For starters, Tiger Roll will be a formidable opponent for any Grand National aspirant next year. Also, Burrows Saint will only be seven years old next year, and no seven-year-old has won the Aintree Grand National since Bogskar won it in 1940.

As well as that, the Saint Des Saints gelding raced off a handicap rating of 144 on Monday. The Irish handicapper has already raised him by 12lb to a mark of 156. He will have to improve again if he is going to win an Aintree Grand National off that type of mark.

That said, he is very young and he has raced just six times over fences, so he has bags of scope for progression as a staying chaser. And there is precedent.  Bobbyjo won the Irish Grand National in 1998, a year before he went to Aintree and won the Aintree Grand National off a 20lb higher mark.  Papillon, who finished second to Bobbyjo in that 1998 Irish Grand National, won the Aintree Grand National in 2000 under a 20-year-old Ruby Walsh.

Rewind a little further. Rhyme ‘N Reason won the Irish National in 1985 and he won the Aintree National in 1988. Davids Lad won the Irish National in 2001, and he was travelling really well in the Aintree National in 2002 when he came down at the fourth last fence.

More recently, Numbersixvalverde won the Irish Grand National as a nine-year-old in 2005 before going to Aintree and winning the Aintree Grand National a year later as a 10-year-old off a 12lb higher mark.

All going well between now and then, Burrows Saint would be a big player in next year’s Aintree Grand National.

There are other horses to note from Monday’s race. Snugsborough Benny did really well to stay on as well as he did to take fourth place. Liam Cusack’s horse raced in rear early on, smuggled around by Denis O’Regan. That’s his racing style. But it was a race in which it was difficult to make ground from the rear. He was the only one of the first six home who was held up early on, and he can probably be marked up on the bare form of the run as a result.

By contrast, Whisperinthebreeze was aggressive. That’s his racing style too. He went clear as they raced across the top of the track before he tired. He was aggressive when he won the Leopardstown Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival in February over two miles and five furlongs and, dropped back down to that type of trip, he will be of interest again.

Bellow Mome will also be of interest again, perhaps over a shorter trip, perhaps at a left-handed track.  And you wouldn’t go giving up on Tout Est Permis, another young horse who ran well for a long way under his big weight.

But it was Burrows Saint’s day. Feelgood day.

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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