As much as you need luck in the Grand National, a good horse underneath you helps a lot, and I was fortunate to be on such a classy, experienced horse for my boss Nicky Henderson.
On paper Triolo D’Alene (pictured) was an ideal first ride — he won the Topham Chase in 2013 over the National fences as well as the Hennessy Gold Cup in the same year. I had ridden him in two races, one of which we won, and had also schooled him over the National-style fences in Lambourn the week before — so I knew him well enough.
I was lucky that Barry Geraghty was committed to riding for owner JP McManus (on Shutthefrontdoor), which then left the door open for me to ride Triolo D’Alene.
The rain on the day was unfortunate and my horse could have done with it being slightly drier — the rain-softened ground caught him out on the second circuit.
The atmosphere on National day was different from anything else I’ve ever experienced. We jockeys had a briefing at 12noon, then it was a long wait for me until the race at 5.15pm. But I just tried to enjoy the day as best I could.
I walked the course twice, once with former jockey Mark Bradburne, who has been a great mentor throughout my career. Nicky’s advice was to have a plan A but be aware that anything can happen and that that plan could easily go wrong, so have a plan B and C too!
The start for the National is so close to the stands you can feel the atmosphere so much, it really does get the horses’ blood up.
I thought the start to the race on Saturday was brilliant. Having grown up watching it on TV and seeing the false starts in the past, it is always a worry. Our girths were checked, we did one circle and then we were off.
I wanted to give my horse as much room as possible. Once you’re over the first few fences you can settle into a rhythm. The ground felt very tiring but they were getting through it.
‘I knew my fate’
I had one worrying moment at the Canal Turn second time around when I nearly jumped into the back of Nick Scholfield and Unioniste, but Triolo D’Alene has been over the National fences before and figured it out for himself.
After that, I knew my fate — that I was too out of touch to win the race — so I just focused on getting him home in one piece and on saving up enough of his energy to jump the final fence. There is nothing worse than needing to pull up at the last jump when you have made it that far. It was a good feeling to get home and finish 14th.
In my head I was trying to think of it as just another race, but once I was in the weighing room beforehand and the senior jockeys started going really quiet, it did hit me that I was just about to ride in the Grand National.
I was pleased to hear all horses and jockeys came back fine. I’ll be reliving that day for a while yet.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 April 2016