There was just one place to be on Saturday afternoon and that was in Liverpool for the 161st running of the world-famous Aintree Grand National. On a truly memorable afternoon, the David Pipe-trained Comply Or Die broke the recent Irish stranglehold on the race by recording a bloodless victory in the hands of Timmy Murphy with the grey King Johns Castle second, Snowy Morning third and Slim Pickings finishing an honourable fourth.
Whilst the National is the ultimate lottery, the support for Comply Or Die was quite significant with the Old Vic-sired gelding hardening from 9/1 into 7/1 joint-favourite, the other market leader being Donald McCain’s Cloudy Lane. Comply Or Die, facile winner of the Eider Chase at Newcastle in February, travelled ominously well throughout and Murphy was able to take the liberty of taking a pull on his mount after Becher’s Brook.
Denis O’Regan, having his second National mount, sent Bewleys Berry ahead at the third last of the 30 obstacles. The blinkered Comply Or Die, on a nice racing weight with 10-9, took up the running at the penultimate obstacle and he wasn’t going to be denied on the long run-in, four lengths separating him from Arthur Moore’s King Johns Castle, ridden by Paul Carberry. Willie Mullins’ Snowy Morning finished a further length and a half adrift in third spot under David Casey.
The Tom Taaffe-trained Slim Pickings, an excellent third to Silver Birch in the Grand National 12 months ago, gave his supporters another excellent run for their money by returning a further 16 lengths back in fourth place with Barry Geraghty. Howard Johnson’s Bewleys Berry meanwhile came an honourable fifth.
Whilst Comply Or Die was sourced by Johnson privately from Tom Costello, it’s worth recalling that King Johns Castle, Snowy Morning, Slim Pickings and Bewleys Berry all started off on the Irish point-to-point circuit.
Now 33, the supremely-stylish Murphy was winning the National at the 12th attempt with his previous best finishing position coming aboard Mark Pitman’s Smarty, runner-up behind Red Marauder in 2001.
The elation on the Co Kildare native’s face was visible for all to see as he was led back into the winners’ enclosure. Murphy, who marries fiancée Verrity Anderson Green later this year, started his career as an amateur in Ireland and he was 1994 joint point-to-point champion novice rider with Kevin O’Sullivan. Murphy’s father Jimmy meanwhile was a prolific amateur in the 1960s. The elder Murphy actually hails from Condonstown near Watergrasshill in Co Cork.
Denis O’Regan, surely the rising star on the British scene, was similarly upbeat about Bewleys Berry’s performance. The Youghal ace said: “It was a great run and he would probably have gone better with a little more juice in the ground. He jumper super and he’ll be a fantastic horse for the National as long as he’s around. “
O’Regan, however, figured amongst the winners on Saturday, bringing his British total for the season to an impressive 53, by landing the Grade 1 John Smith’s Maghull Novices’ Chase aboard Tidal Bay. Trained by Howard Johnson, Tidal Bay had of course previously won the Arkle Chase at last month’s Cheltenham festival.
With several Cheltenham winners such as Master Minded, Inglis Drever, Albertas Run and Captain Cee Bee getting beaten at Aintree over the three days, Tidal Bay bucked that trend with a power-packed display in this coveted two-miler. The Flemensfirth-sired gelding led between the last two fences, ultimately beating Paul Nicholls’ grey Takeroc by six lengths. Modicum finished third whilst Jimmy Mangan’s recent Power Gold Cup winner Conna Castle came a more than creditable fourth.
Timmy Murphy, it must be said, limbered up for his National mount on Comply Or Die by winning the Grade 1 Scottish And Newcastle Pub Enterprises Aintree Hurdle for the third time on John Queally’s course specialist Al Eile.
Homebred by his colourful owner Michael Ryan, Al Eile in truth could be called the most likely winner from some way out and he eventually eased into the lead at the second last flight, the winning margin being 10 lengths over Champion Hurdle runner-up Osana.
As is by now the custom, Ryan and his ever-expanding group of friends, that include Ollie O’Connor from Tramore and Waterford’s Eamonn Griffin, launched into verse by giving a rendition of ‘Dungarvan – My Home Town’ from the winners’ podium.
Where else could all of this occur bar Aintree. Here’s looking forward to Liverpool 2009!
The domestic racing programme returns to normal this Thursday with the first of a planned seven-race flat card scheduled to get under way at Tipperary at 4.35 pm.
Dermot Weld has experienced a truly sensational start to the new campaign and perhaps the Rosewell House maestro can collect the Thomastown Castle Race with Prince Erik. Already the winner of a 12-furlong flat race on the all-weather at Dundalk in late March, Prince Erik did after all have the class to finish a creditable sixth behind Soldier Of Fortune in last year’s Irish Derby.
It’s safe to say that Prince Erik won’t encounter anything of Soldier Of Fortune’s calibre here and he’s therefore recommended to possess too many aces for recent Cork winner Annie’s Dream.
Daring Man is put forward as the solution to the www.tipperaryraces.ie Race. A son of Michael Shefflin’s Annshoon Stud stallion Talkin Man, the Michael O’Brien-trained Daring Man created a hugely favourable impression when beating an 81-rated opponent in He’s Got Rhythm on what was his initial career outing in a five-furlong maiden at Dundalk on March 19th. Daring Man is clearly a progressive sort and he can continue in a victorious vein here at the expense of the previous course winner Shivering.
Impossible Dream appears the most likely winner of the Diamond Green Race over an extended seven furlongs.
This Andrew Kinsella-trained four-year-old was only beaten a length and a quarter into second place by Twin Sun’s in a seven-furlong handicap at Cork in late March. Impossible Dream can avenge that defeat by getting the better of Navajo Moon here.
Jim Bolger’s Comadoir can atone for his second-placed debut effort at The Curragh on March 30th by proving marginally superior to Playdate in the Ballyhane Stud European Breeders Fund Maiden over five furlongs whilst the Tommy Stack-trained Munsters Call should complete a quick hat-trick by getting the better of Marinebird in the Derrinstown Stud Apprentice Handicap.
Hanoverian Baron can vindicate the promise he displayed last season by making a triumphant return to the fray for the John Oxx stable in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Maiden whilst Luxie could prove yet another winner for Dermot Weld by disposing of Chasing Clouds in the closing Sponsor A Race At Tipperary In 2008 Handicap.