The Citizen (KZN)

National triumph for Mullins


- –

ʂ First success in legendary race for jockey Paul Townend.

The Randox Grand National is famed for its unpredicta­bly, the toughest race of all to win even for the most powerful of owners and trainers.

Since the age-old race's first running in 1839 when the aptly named winner Lottery set the tone, it has been a puzzle to bamboozle the sharpest of minds and deepest of pockets.

That jump racing's pre-eminent trainer Willie Mullins had just one success to his name going into this year's race only served to highlight that gloriously unfathomab­le nature.

The soon-to-be-18-time Irish champion trainer has shown at Cheltenham and elsewhere he is not a man to be denied for long, however, and 19 years after cracking the National code with Hedgehunte­r, he won the most famous contest of all again with I Am Maximus.

The well-backed 7-1 joint-favourite gave jockey Paul Townend his first Grand National win, Mullins his second and legendary owner JP McManus a third with a victory that was as easy as 1-2-3 and put Mullins top of the British trainers' title standing. Mullins and Townend are also the first partnershi­p to win jump racing's top three races – the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National – in the same season.

So many runners were in with a chance of glory approachin­g the final fence and for a fleeting moment Rachael Blackmore, the only female jockey to have landed the Grand National, looked set to win another on Minella Indo.

The 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner touched down after the last in front and went a few lengths clear, but Townend swiftly had the move covered and I Am Maximus powered away to score in stunning style.

"It's an unbelievab­le race, but he's an unbelievab­le horse," said Townend. "Gold Cups are Gold Cups and Grade 1s are hard to win, but Grand Nationals are a bit different. I can't believe it. It's a bit surreal.

"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 responded like I thought he would."

It was the worst start possible for Corach Rambler as last year's winner unseated Derek Fox at the first fence.

I Am Maximus led home Delta Work, Minella Indo and Galvin for an Irish 1-2-3-4, all of whom were Grade 1-winning chasers, with Kitty's Light faring best of the British runners in fifth.

The tally of 21 finishers was the highest since the same number completed in 2005.

I Am Maximus started his career in Britain for trainer Nicky Henderson before late owner Mike Grech moved his horses to Ireland. Following a promising fourth in last season's Brown Advisory at Cheltenham, McManus bought I Am Maximus and the timing proved to be inspired as the following month his new recruit won the Irish Grand National.

The eight-year-old – one of eight runners in the race for Mullins – registered two more victories at Fairyhouse this season, in the Drinmore Novice Chase and the Bobbyjo Chase in February.

"It's extraordin­ary how we came to have him," said the trainer. "Nicky said to me, 'Make sure you get that horse if you can,' so thanks to him and also Henrietta Knight who organised all that. That's why we're here today.

"He never shows me on the gallops that he's a champion. He's just another horse. He's unremarkab­le. If you saw him out in the field you wouldn't pass any remark, but he's obviously got an engine.

"When you win the Bobbyjo like that, that is probably one of the best trials for the National and he just ran away with it. It was extraordin­ary. That's when I started to think we had a real live chance."

Mullins, who before this year had had 48 unsuccessf­ul attempts at the National since Hedgehunte­r, now has a massive chance in the British trainers' title race with his share of the £1 million prize money propelling him to the top of the standings from Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls with two weeks of the season to go.

 ?? Picture: Paddy Power ?? BRILLIANT. I Am Maximus shows great courage under jockey Paul Townend to win the Randox Grand National at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday.
Picture: Paddy Power BRILLIANT. I Am Maximus shows great courage under jockey Paul Townend to win the Randox Grand National at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa