Like a fine wine, Ruby Walsh just keeps getting better with age.
There’s few things left for the irreplaceable 39-year-old to achieve in his glittering riding career but it was clear to see what providing his boss Willie Mullins with a first Irish Grand National aboard novice Burrows Saint (6/1 favourite) meant to him.
Nothing would have made the Kildare pilot happier than if he was the man to give Mullins his maiden Cheltenham Gold Cup – that honour fell to Paul Townend with Al Boum Photo last month – but the Fairyhouse showpiece wasn’t bad compensation.
It’s 23 years since Walsh started with Mullins and their partnership has broken every record going for successful racing duos, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
“I love working for Willie, Jackie and Patrick. I’m there since I was offered a job at 16 and I’m now 39, and we haven’t fallen out yet. He hands you the saddle and just leaves it to you,” a beaming Walsh said.
“If you make an absolute cock-up of something he never says boo. There isn’t a more loyal man to ride for.
“Whenever something goes wrong he is standing right behind you, and that’s what you need, and that’s what a good boss should be for anybody.”
With an unenviable catalogue of injuries in recent seasons, Walsh has been retired in many quarters and the punch in the air as he crossed the finish line had a little more venom after defying his critics once again.
Quickly greeted by sister Katie – followed by agent/sister Jennifer – before celebrating with mother Helen and proclaiming “well done mother”, this was a satisfying victory as one of the game’s greatest added another chapter to an already lengthy book.
It was also a particularly sweet one for Mullins. Never one to do things in half measures, he shattered his Irish Grand National duck with the Rich Ricci-owned six-year-old leading home a remarkable 1-2-3 for the master of Closutton.
Isleofhopendreams (20/1) was runner-up for the second year running with Acapella Bourgeois (18/1) a gallant third – small Laois trainer Liam Cusack spoiled the Mullins party in fourth with Snugsborough Benny (14/1) – while fifth-placed Bellow Mome (25/1) helped Mullins gobble up €435,000 of the €500,000 prizemoney pot.
Mullins was surprised Walsh had opted for the inexperienced Burrows Saint – he had expected him to ride Pairofbrowneyes (12/1), which fell at the fourth – but Ruby insisted and his intuition paid dividends once more.
“It’s just been one of those years where we have done things that we haven’t done before,” Mullins said.
The day belonged to the 12-time champion trainer, who fired a 293/1 treble, with Walsh earlier on the mark at the Meath track through French Made (6/1), as the four-year-old filly ripped up the form book to take the Grade Two Juvenile Hurdle.
Eighth in last month’s Triumph Hurdle, French Made reversed form with Coeur Sublime (9/4 favourite) and Gardens Of Babylon (5/2) and France, via the Punchestown Festival, is likely to be next on her agenda.
With hot favourite Andy Dufresne scratched because of unsuitable ground, Mullins made hay in the closing bumper as the Barry O’Neill-ridden Golden Spread (5/1) repelled the challenge of the trainer’s son Patrick aboard Mt Leinster (3/1).
Jessica Harrington was another trainer on song as the Moone handler bagged a 167/1 double led by the bold. front-running success of Jett (7/1), as Robbie Power’s mount kept finding more to see off The Storyteller (3/1) in the Grade Two Devenish Chase.
“We’ve finally got the key to him. Robbie said he had a lot in hand and he will stay three miles. If he’d go quick enough I’d run him in the Galway Plate but I’m not sure he’d like it,” she said of the eight-year-old.
Harrington was on the mark in the opening handicap hurdle when Paddy Kennedy edged out younger brother Jack – who was celebrating his 20th birthday yesterday – as The Holy One (20/1) had a neck to spare over Kuiper Belt (25/1) after a stewards’ enquiry.
The loveable Rashaan (16/1) provided Carlow trainer Colin Kidd, who trains close to Mullins but also operates a sheep farm to keep things ticking over, with another famous success under Davy Russell in the Grade Two Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle.
“I have four in for the summer and I’m happy with that as I’ve no aspirations to train 20 or 25 horses. If I can get four that are capable of winning I’m happy with that,” Kidd said.
The Dreapers are synonymous with Grand National Day and son Jim was on the board through Sizing Rome (4/1 favourite) in the handicap chase, while local trainer Matthew Smith landed the handicap hurdle with Maeve’s Choice (10/1), an important big-day winner for the freelancing Bryan Cooper in front of a 12,500 attendance.
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