The Irish won their sixth John Smith’s Grand National in nine years today when Silver Birch, a 33-1 shot ridden by Robbie Power, beat the Welsh trained McKelvey by three quarters of a length in the tightest of finishes to the world’s greatest race.
Slim Pickings, who led for much of the last circuit, was only a further length and a half away in third, ahead of 100-1 outsider Philson Run in fourth.
The winner is trained in County Meath by Gordon Elliott, 29, a former amateur rider who only started training a year ago and is yet to saddle a winner in his native Ireland. Like the winning jockey he also whips in to the Ward Union Hunt and has just 30 horses in his yard.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I never dreamed of doing this, not in my first season.”
He and owner Brian Walsh bought the 10-year-old, a former Welsh National and Becher Chase winner, off champion trainer Paul Nicholls for just 20,000 gns ostensibly as a cross-country horse. He was runner-up in the cross-country at Cheltenham and, according to the trainer, ‘thrown in at the weights’ on what he had done in the past. The plan had been to go for the La Touche, the big cross-country at Punchestown in 10 days although those plans might now be revised.
Favourite backers did not get a great run for their money when Point Barrow, the most fancied of the Irish runners, came down at the first and another, Monkerhostin refused at the seventh fence. Joes Edge, the third co-favourite, pulled up at half way.
Power, 25, having his second ride in the race, said: “I had a lovely position down the rail and everything went right. I had a small bit of trouble when Bewley’s Berry fell at Becher’s in front of me on the second circuit but the horse sidestepped round him and I gave Paddy Brennan a clip.
“When he winged the last and pricked his ears I knew he’d have enough left in the tank to win the race.”
Don’t miss Horse & Hound’s full report on all the action from the Grand National meeting at Aintree in next week’s magazine (19 April, ’07)