Davy Russell is full of admiration for this year’s Grand National victors but he has a “tough pill to swallow” on day one
Everyone understands that the Grand National is a huge event, but the true enormity of it doesn’t hit you until you win it. The race touches so many people, it’s phenomenal. So the first thing I said to winning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen after he crossed the line was. “Just enjoy it – you’ve reached the pinnacle.”
Sam is a working man and rides for fun, but he’s an amazing jockey – his technique over the fences is impeccable and he’s as brave as a lion. He’s won King Georges, the Gold Cup and now the Grand National – these are the races every jockey dreams of. But part of what makes our sport so great is that it’s so welcoming that someone like him can come in and achieve that.
I’m sure Sam would have been delighted just to have completed the course on what he knew was going to be his last-ever ride, so to win was something special. The Waley-Cohen family have been brilliant for racing and have a long affiliation with Aintree, so they thoroughly deserved that success and all credit to them.
I suppose the one person who’s been a bit lost in the win is Noble Yeats’s trainer Emmet Mullins. I rode with Emmet, he’s a great guy, and he’s now a very shrewd, young up-and-coming trainer. He has a small outfit but it’s no surprise that he’s capable of having a Grand National winner so early in his career. I’d say it’s onwards and upwards for him.
The end of the dream
My run in the Grand National on Run Wild Fred ended sooner than I’d hoped as we fell at the Canal Turn. The field went very quick over the first few fences and I ended up further back than was ideal. I got a bit blinded going into the fence and he was just taken off his feet. It was a shame because he fitted the bill as a Grand National horse in a lot of ways but sometimes you need to get into a rhythm really fast and it takes him a fence or two to do that, so that’s what cost him.
Delta Work, another horse from the Gordon Elliott yard, ran a fantastic race though to finish third. I was right behind him and I noticed that he hit a couple of fences early on, so it was an extraordinary run.
I was fortunate to have had a winner earlier in the day in the Grade One Novices’ Hurdle on Three Stripe Life, who Gordon has had since a three-year-old. We always knew he had a lot of potential and he showed that during the year, but we just bumped into Sir Gerhard a couple of times so we felt that instead of going back to Punchestown and meeting him again, we’d go to Aintree. It worked out, particularly to get a winner for joint-owner Kenny Haughey, who has been a big supporter.
There were some great riding performances over the three days from the likes of Foxhunters’ winner Gina Andrews and Topham victor Sean Bowen, who has really matured as a rider. Mark Walsh enjoyed a fantastic Festival along with owner JP McManus.
A tough pill to swallow
I thought I’d had another winner on Thursday when my ride Pied Piper dead-heated with Knight Salute in the juvenile hurdle, but a stewards enquiry resulted in them placing Knight Salute first and my horse second.
It was a tough pill to swallow because there was no doubt mine was the best horse in the race. He went a bit left at the last, but it was clear that I didn’t cause any interference and Paddy Brennan, Knight Salute’s jockey, said he wasn’t inconvenienced – I thought both horses ran gallantly and fairly to the line.
I told the stewards my horse had run about a bit in the past and perhaps they misunderstood my argument. Either way, it was a strange decision by the stewards, which the owners are keen to appeal and I’d be in favour of that.
But overall, Aintree produced a fantastic festival – it felt great to be back.
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 April
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