Any Second Now out to cap Walsh clan’s National fairytale

The Walsh family already have great memories of the Randox Grand National – and hopes are high Any Second Now can gave them further reason to cheer at Aintree next week.

It is 21 years since father Ted and son Ruby combined to win the world’s most famous steeplechase with the popular Papillon, with the rider’s then teenage sister Katie also part of the travelling team.

Five years later, Ruby Walsh added a second National success to his CV aboard the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Hedgehunter, while in 2012 Katie achieved the best placing of a female rider in Grand National history when third aboard Seabass, also trained by Ted Walsh.

Seabass and Katie Walsh in action in the 2021 National
Seabass and Katie Walsh in action in the 2012 National (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

“It’s been a race that’s been very lucky for us over the years,” said Katie.

“I always had a memory of the National from watching it as a child, but my clearest memory and best day was Papillon winning back in 2000.

“I was lucky enough to travel over and look after him. It’s so long ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

“It’s a fairytale really. When I was riding ponies round a field, I envisaged that we were jumping Becher’s and the Canal Turn.

“To be over there with a horse running in the National when I was 15 or 16, with Ruby riding him and dad training him, it really was this dream that was coming alive – and for him to win it was unbelievable.”

Ruby Walsh, riding Papillon, with a young Katie leading the horse
Ruby Walsh, riding Papillon, with a young Katie leading the horse (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Ruby Walsh, of course, went on to become one of the most decorated riders in the history of the sport before his retirement in 2019.

But among his countless big-race successes, it is that first Aintree triumph aboard Papillon that he still recalls with most fondness.

He said: “I don’t even know if it was a dream, to be honest – I don’t know if anyone ever dreams of winning the Grand National.

“You probably dream about riding in the Grand National and re-enact riding in the National as a kid when you’re riding ponies, but you don’t dream about winning it or run the full race in your imagination.

“Before Bobbyjo won it in 1999, Irish horses didn’t really compete in the Grand National. When I was growing up as a kid, you were wondering if any of the Irish horses would get to the Canal Turn – you weren’t thinking they were going to win.

“It’s not the kind of race where you can think ‘if I get on the best horse I could win that’. You can dream about winning a Gold Cup or a Champion Hurdle – because in theory, if you go out on the best horse, the chances are you’ll win.

“With the Grand National, it’s just a lottery – it still takes a lot of winning.”

Any Second Now (right) was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019
Any Second Now (right) was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019 (Nigel French/PA)

This year Ted Walsh will saddle the JP McManus-owned Any Second Now, who warmed up for his bid for National glory with an impressive victory over just two miles at Navan in March.

Katie Walsh, who is heavily involved at her father’s yard, said: “I think the way the National has changed in recent years, you do need to be able to travel and travel easily within yourself for the first mile-and-a-half.

“In that regard, Any Second Now is a strong traveller.”

Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the National
Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While wary of the threat posed by Jonjo O’Neill’s hot favourite Cloth Cap in particular, Ruby Walsh insists he would pick Any Second Now if given the choice of which horse to ride.

He said: “I can see why Cloth Cap is favourite because he jumps, travels, has pace and stays. He’s probably going to be hard to beat, but Any Second Now is in great nick.

“Cloth Cap is so far ahead of the handicapper, in theory he should be an absolute certainty.

“If I was still a jockey, I’d be delighted if Jonjo rang me to ride him, I’d be delighted if my dad rang, I’d be delighted if Willie Mullins rang me to ride Burrows Saint – and if Paul Nolan rang me to ride Discorama I wouldn’t be saying ‘no’.

“I’d ride Any Second Now. Is he the most likely winner? I couldn’t tell you. But I still think the greatest day I had in racing was winning the Grand National for my dad – and I wouldn’t mind another feeling like that again.”

Should Any Second Now come up short, Katie Walsh would be as delighted as anyone to see one of the female riders in action claim victory – even if it will mean losing her record.

“I’ve never thought about it like that, to be honest,” she said.

“I never thought I would ever ride in the National. I dreamed about it and rode in a couple in our own back fields!”

If a female rider is to win the Grand National in the foreseeable future, the most likely candidate would appear to be Walsh’s compatriot Rachael Blackmore.

The 31-year-old has already made history this year, having become the first female rider to win a Champion Hurdle aboard Honeysuckle and being crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month with six winners.

Katie Walsh believes Rachael Blackmore is more than capable of winning the National
Katie Walsh believes Rachael Blackmore is more than capable of winning the National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Personally, I’d love to see Rachael Blackmore win it (the Grand National),” said Walsh.

“Rachael in Cheltenham was remarkable. She was brilliant – you can take male and female out of it.

“The more women riding in the National, the more chance there is of a woman winning it.

“Things have changed quickly. When I rode Seabass in 2012, I think we were all thinking ‘can this really happen?’. Now it just looks like it’s only a matter of when, because we have the likes of Rachael and Bryony Frost and Bridget Andrews as professional jockeys.

“Without doubt all those girls have the ability to ride the winner, but I can’t see a massive change in the number of female riders.

“I think you need to be very lucky on the day, and it all needs to work on the day for whoever rides the winner.”

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