I Am Maximus secures Grand National victory as Irish horses dominate

Paul Townend secures first win in the race as Willie Mullins takes second and JP McManus a third

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend copper-fastened their status at the summit of jump racing with Randox Aintree Grand National glory for I Am Maximus on Saturday.

The 7-1 co-favourite, owned by JP McManus and one of eight runners in the race for Mullins, led home an Irish clean sweep by beating the 28-1 shots Delta Work and Minella Indo, with Galvin at 40-1 in fourth.

Having landed the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup at last month’s Cheltenham festival on board the Mullins pair State Man and Galopin Des Champs, Townend became the first rider in the modern era to win the sport’s unofficial Triple Crown in one season.

Ireland’s 33-year-old champion jockey broke his duck in the world’s most famous race on a very lucky 13th spin in the race.

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After delivering an acclaimed ride on I Am Maximus to win last year’s Irish Grand National, Townend this time smuggled the brilliant but quirky star around the ultimate ‘National’ test to trail the leaders from the last of the 30 obstacles.

At that point the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo briefly looked like becoming just the third horse ever to win both of steeplechasing’s greatest prizes as Rachael Blackmore momentarily helped him get past his fellow veteran 11-year-old Delta Work who rallied.

However, the class that has encouraged Mullins to not rule out a unique Gold Cup-Grand National double in reverse for I Am Maximus started to kick in from the elbow and he shot clear by over seven lengths.

“It’s an unbelievable race, but he’s an unbelievable horse. It’s a bit surreal to be honest. I ended up being first to the first fence, but when he started backing off, it wasn’t a great start.

“He got a little careful on the second circuit so I was trying to conserve as much energy as I could, but I didn’t get a clear run. When I got him out, he was motoring.

“I’m sure the ones in front weren’t looking for me, but he’s responded like I thought he would,” Townend said.

The Cork-born rider emulated Tommy Cullinan who pulled off the same Triple Crown feat in 1930.

Mullins acclaimed Townend’s subtle rails-hugging ride as “super” and was reassured throughout by his jockey’s body language.

“It was an excellent ride. I had said before the race that we didn’t know how good this horse was, today he showed that he’s better than he had been. I thought he still had a little bit from the handicapper after the Bobbyjo and he’s proved it today.

“Paul was excellent, he kidded him round the inside, he got chopped up a couple of times and probably didn’t jump as clean as he could, but he was looking for the gaps and when he eventually got it, he was all right,” said Mullins

“He’s a tremendous horse. He has his own way of doing things, he’s quirky and immature but he’s learning all the time. Nicky Henderson had him before me and said to me ‘make sure you get him’ and it was fine advice, Nicky could see the talent that he had, and we just had to nurture it.

“To win an Irish National and an English National is impressive. I think he could be a Gold Cup horse, but we don’t know how good he could be because he doesn’t do it at home. He’s quirky, but he has huge ability and until others get the better of him, we won’t know how good he is.”

It was his second National, all of 19 years after Hedgehunter, since when the Irishman has transformed the face of the sport and is long since assured of an 18th trainers’ title at home.

However, the half million sterling first prize for the National has put him top of the British trainers’ championship too and Mullins is now odds-on to become the first Irish-based trainer to win that prize since the legendary Vincent O’Brien 70 years ago.

Given his nine Cheltenham winners last month, which took his festival tally past the century mark, Mullins’s dominance on both sides of the Irish Sea would make such an accomplishment apt when the cross-channel campaign ends at Sandown later this month.

Sure enough, Mullins indicated he will be sending more cross-channel runners than usual over the coming weeks to keep ahead of Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton, with even an another ‘National’ in his sights at next week’s Scottish version in Ayr.

“Now we’ve won the National we’ll have to give it a good go. We are there with a chance so we might see you all in Sandown, Perth, Ayr – where is there!” he joked.

A total of 21 of the 34 runners finished and the Jockey Club reported they all finished unscathed. There were no fallers. Corach Rambler was one of four horses to unseat when he exited at the first, although he subsequently fell when riderless. Seven of the field were pulled up.

The first British runner home was Kitty’s Light who briefly looked like pulling off a fairytale success for trainer Christian Williams before fading to fifth. Amateur rider David Maxwell was sixth on Ain’t That A Shame.

Mullins’s biggest rival Gordon Elliott once more had to give best with Delta Work going a place better than his third in 2022. Elliott’s Galvin also made the frame as did the third of Ireland’s top three trainers, Henry de Bromhead, through Minella Indo.

Earlier on the Aintree card Elliott secured more Grade One success though as the apple of his eye, Brighterdaysahead, bounced from losing her unbeaten record at Cheltenham to trounce her opposition in the Mersey Hurdle.

Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy picked up another top-flight prize after the National as Found A Fifty went one better than his Arkle effort at Cheltenham to land the Maghull Novices’Chase. Kennedy had to be at his strongest to get the 11-8 favourite up by a head from Master Chewy.

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