Grand National heroes soak up homecoming atmosphere

Noble Yeats, Emmet Mullins and Sam Waley-Cohen received the acclaim of the locals as the Randox Grand National heroes paraded through the village of Leighlinbridge on Sunday evening.

Having announced he was retiring from the saddle after the world’s most famous steeplechase earlier in the week, Waley-Cohen got his fairytale ending as he steered 50-1 shot Noble Yeats to Aintree glory.

Just 24 hours after his triumph on Merseyside, the 39-year-old flew to Ireland to be part of the celebrations as he and Noble Yeats were given a tremendous welcome in County Carlow.

Waley-Cohen was joined by his father, Robert, who bought Noble Yeats prior to his run at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, and trainer Mullins, 32, who is based locally near his famous uncle, Willie.

Three years on from the champion trainer showing off his Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo in front of the Lord Bagenal Inn, Noble Yeats stood proudly in the same spot alongside his beaming connections.

Sam Waley-Cohen sits on Noble Yeats outside the Lord Bagenal Inn
Sam Waley-Cohen sits on Noble Yeats outside the Lord Bagenal Inn (Brian Lawless/PA)

Waley-Cohen – who runs a string of dental practices that number over 200 spread across the UK, Ireland and Benelux – said: “It’s an incredible high, there’s so much goodwill and it’s a thrill to be here. It’s a special day, a special occasion.

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“Nothing has really sunk in, these things take time before you really appreciate it. You’re still floating along – and I’ve got a busy week at work coming up! Then I’ll try to get a few days away and let it sink in more.”

Reflecting on the race, he said: “When he picked up and went to the front he just felt like he lifted off the ground. I didn’t get the perfect stride at the last, I went down a little bit and I thought ‘I’ve got to fight for the elbow’, but as soon as he went back up I thought he had plenty (left). And that was it.

“He fought for me, and he’s really got acceleration. Back when Patrick Mullins won on him, I watched the replays and there were times he’s been asked for his effort and he’s really found a lot. You knew he had it.

“He’ll stay here and do a summer here, he’ll definitely stay with Emmet and his team. We’ll think about trying to get him back for the National – I’m sure the handicapper will have something to say. Hopefully we have a chance to be competitive still. Why not go back and try again?”

Of Mullins, he said: “It’s amazing, he’s 32 and he’s so clever and has believed in the horse and produced him. We really admire what he’s doing and what he’s done.

“We have horses with Neil Mulholland, we like to have horses with younger trainers who have proved they know what they are doing.”

Emmet Mullins poses with Noble Yeats outside the Lord Bagenal Inn
Emmet Mullins poses with Noble Yeats outside the Lord Bagenal Inn (Brian Lawless/PA)

It was a first win in the National for a seven-year-old since 1940, and Mullins – who revealed Noble Yeats had been stabled at Haydock in search of a calmer environment in the days before the race – said: “I didn’t even know the stats about seven-year-olds, I wouldn’t know where to look up stats! It wasn’t on my mind, I was happy with the horse.

“I was able to watch no bother, I didn’t get to see much of the first circuit and coming past the stand for the second circuit I had to take a deep breath. I just said ‘this is a position where winners come from’ – he was in position A.

“At the Melling Road I took my second blow, Sam was confident enough to take that hold and follow them round into the straight. You were trying to pinch yourself as it was still there for the taking.

“He was taking Sam there, it was a massive performance.”

Proud owner Robert Waley-Cohen (far left) with the rest of the Noble Yeats team
Proud owner Robert Waley-Cohen (far left) with the rest of the Noble Yeats team (Brian Lawless/PA)

Waley-Cohen senior added: “We’re revelling in the pleasure of it. What could be more enjoyable, and it’s so special to come over and parade the horse and do something for everybody here. It’s a party!”

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