Dual Grand National winner Davy Russell reflects on a momentous day
A SENTIMENT that really struck a chord for me came from the late Aintree chairman Rose Paterson. She told me when I first won the Grand National in 2018 that winning the race was a fragile thing and the person receiving that honour should look after it carefully.
Hopefully I’ve done my part and I can’t think of a better person to pass the mantle to than Rachael Blackmore. I think Rose’s words would ring true with her, too, and I hope they will be remembered for many years to come.
You could see the delight in Rachael’s face when she crossed the line, but it was always going to happen for her. Many good female riders have tried before her, but that’s the calibre of Rachael – she stands alone not just as a female rider breaking the mould, but as a rider who has broken every ceiling this year by winning the Champion Hurdle, being crowned leading rider at Cheltenham, landing the Grand National and now she has a squeak at becoming Irish champion jockey, too.
From the second fence, my eye was drawn to three riders in sequence – Tom Scudamore on Cloth Cap, Mark Walsh on Any Second Now and Rachael on Minella Times. In the National, riders either catch the eye because of how well they’re travelling or because they’re not going well at all, and I followed Rachael step by step because she looked to be having a great ride the whole way round. Minella Times jumped fantastically for her with not a moment’s worry other than maybe getting a bit close at the third last, but he still didn’t touch a twig.
Always in control
LONG-TIME leader Sam Waley-Cohen’s run on Jett perhaps came to an end a bit sooner than the other riders would have anticipated, but Rachael was sat there in front with plenty of horse under her.
In the end, it was her stablemate who would be her biggest challenger – with Aidan Coleman riding 100-1 shot Balko Des Flos – but Rachael was always in control and the further she went, the less doubt there was in your mind that she would make history. She also led trainer Henry de Bromhead’s amazing one-two in the race.
It was a great result for JP McManus, too, whose horses finished first and third. Owners are such an important part of our sport, so it’s fantastic that all their input can be rewarded at this level.
I can’t say whether Mark Walsh and Any Second Now would have won had they not been unlucky in running and badly hampered, but it’s a huge credit to his horse for coming back after that to finish third.
Credit must also go to Aintree itself for the spectacle in difficult times. I had plenty of feedback from the lads there and they were so complimentary about everyone involved at the racecourse.
The end of a great era
MY final word must go to four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson, who announced his retirement last week. He was a huge talent from a very early age and exploded on to the scene, but was always knocking on the door behind AP McCoy – he certainly kept him on his toes for many years.
We had the pleasure of seeing Richard riding in Ireland a fair bit on the likes of Florida Pearl and I was around him a bit more during my time in England – he was always a great competitor, but an even nicer person. The way he came from out of the clouds and flew home to win the 1999 Stayers’ Hurdle on Anzum will always stick in my mind. It’s certainly the end of a great era.
This exclusive column is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (15 April, 2021)
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