Tag Archive for: Aintree

Padded hurdles to be introduced at all Jockey Club-owned jumps tracks

The Jockey Club has reacted to compelling data regarding the safety of runners by moving to introduce padded hurdles at all 11 of its racecourses which stage National Hunt fixtures.

Such obstacles have been used at Exeter, Market Rasen and Wincanton in recent years and statistics from the Industry Jump Racing Risk Model are reported to have been very positive.

An 11 per cent reduction in the risk of falling in races run over padded hurdles compared to birch ones has been noted during an initiative managed by the Horse Welfare Board.

Racecourse officials, vets and trainers have also provided clear and consistent feedback that minor injuries such as cuts, scrapes and lacerations are substantially reduced.

Wincanton Races – Friday 12th January
Runners clearing a padded hurdle at Wincanton (Andrew Matthews/PA).

All remaining Jockey Club racecourses staging jump meetings, including Cheltenham and Aintree, will make the transition to padded hurdles over the next two seasons, with the process to be completed by the start of the 2026-27 season.

Jon Pullin, the group’s head of racing and clerk of the course at Cheltenham, said: “Following extensive research and analysis, it is evident that padded hurdles provide a safer alternative to traditional birch hurdles, while still presenting the same jumping challenge and spectacle for racing fans.

“Having been successfully utilised at some of our racecourses from as far back as 2016, we feel it is the right decision to deploy padded hurdles at all 11 of the Jockey Club’s racecourses which stage Jump racing.

“This process will require significant investment by the Jockey Club and will be completed in time for the start of the 2026-27 season.”

Carlisle, Haydock, Huntingdon, Kempton, Sandown and Warwick are the other tracks affected.

Tower to hit Yorkshire Cup heights

Tower Of London can rise above his rivals on the Knavesmire to lift the Boodles Yorkshire Cup.

Aidan O’Brien’s four-year-old made his winter travels to the Middle East a worthwhile venture when landing both the Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh and the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.

Those lucrative triumphs came ahead of some respected performers and were a step forward on his European form from last summer.

The peak of that segment of his career was a fourth-placed run in the St Leger, where his stablemate Continuous may have been the clear winner but the placed horses finished fairly well bunched.

After some longer distance efforts since, Tower Of London drops down to a mile and six furlongs and looks the horse to beat under Ryan Moore.

On the same card, Running Queen can take the Clipper EBF Marygate Fillies’ Stakes at Listed level for Sam Sangster and Oisin Murphy.

The Kingman filly was the winner of a Salisbury conditions race when last seen in early May, a smart length-and-a-quarter success on soft ground that tees her up nicely for a step up in grade.

The other Listed contest on the card is the Sky Bet Fillies’ Stakes, where Charlie Appleby’s Devoted Queen catches the eye on her third career start.

Another daughter of Kingman out of multiple Group race-winning mare Fintry, her two prior outings ended in success as she took a Newmarket maiden by a good margin last year and returned to action in April to win on the all-weather at Kempton.

Now returned to turf, she looks poised to take the next step in her career under William Buick.

Newbury punters are advised to side with Diligently in the ARC & Sky Sports Racing Support Starlight Maiden Stakes.

There was plenty of chatter about Clive Cox’s juvenile prior to his racecourse introduction at Ascot a couple of weeks ago and by the time the gates opened, he was a 2-1 favourite.

Diligently’s supporters were ultimately left counting their losses, with the Harry Angel colt beaten two lengths into fourth place, but he should improve for the run and deserves a second chance.

Mount Teide is another who can confirm debut promise in the Starlight Express Novice Stakes.

Andrew Balding’s three-year-old was a big price at 25-1 at Newmarket’s Craven meeting, but hit the front at one stage before being caught close home by a trio of rivals.

Mount Teide was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Frankel’s half-brother Kikkuli and he can only progress.

In Ireland there is Group Three action in the Saval Beg Levmoss Stakes, where O’Brien has the key contender in Kyprios.

Once appearing to be the champion-elect in the staying division with a string of Group One successes in 2022, including the Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Irish St Leger, the chestnut has since been hindered by injury.

His winning streak may have been interrupted but his talent clearly remains and a Listed win in the Vintage Crop at Navan was a good way to return in late April.

This is a level up but in a small field, he is a clear choice and should not find too much hardship in the assignment if he can tap into the ability he has shown in abundance previously.

SELECTIONS

AINTREE: 5.45 Roaring Legend, 6.20 Homme Public, 6.55 Alnilam, 7.30 Kinondo Kwetu, 8.05 Majestic Jameela, 8.40 Bells of Ufford.

HAMILTON: 5.30 Captain Corcoran, 6.05 Gobsmacked, 6.40 Quintus Arrius, 7.15 Capital Theory, 7.50 Majestic Newlaw, 8.25 Lia Rose, 9.00 Bernie The Bear.

KILBEGGAN: 4.25 Minella Buddy, 5.00 Run For Harry, 5.35 Oh So Charming, 6.10 Jhentong Enki, 6.45 Ottizzini, 7.20 Warm In Gorey, 7.55 Take All, 8.30 Custom Taylor.

LEOPARDSTOWN: 4.15 Mount Kilimanjaro, 4.50 Cardinal Zin, 5.25 Giuseppe Cassioli, 5.55 Storm Eric, 6.30 Speckled Meadow, 7.05 Kyprios, 7.40 Charlie Darling, 8.15 The Black Tiger.

NEWBURY: 2.00 Darvel, 2.30 Glam De Vega, 3.00 Diligently, 3.30 Jarraaf, 4.00 Clockmaker, 4.35 Houstonn, 5.10 Papagei, 5.40 Waxing Gibbous.

NEWMARKET: 2.23 Powdering, 2.53 Creative Story, 3.23 Skukuza, 3.53 Gold Medallist, 4.25 Moktasaab, 4.55 Unico.

YORK: 2.15 Running Queen, 2.45 Botanical, 3.15 Devoted Queen, 3.45 TOWER OF LONDON (NAP), 4.15 Lead Artist, 4.45 Challet, 5.20 Vantheman.

DOUBLE: Tower Of London and Running Queen.

Roving Reports: Aintree Mayhem

As we come to the end of another jumps season, one in which my 6-1 Sean Bowen to win the jockeys' title was arguably the best-value loser I’ll ever bet (yes, get those tiny violins out for me), I’d better be telling you about what April has been like on the road for us, writes David Massey. And that means all roads leading to Aintree, to begin with. 

I decided to drive there myself this year as, with the weather threatening all four seasons over the three days, I’ve so much clothing and rainwear that I can at least leave the majority of it in the car each day, rather than go through the laborious process of transferring it all to my lift, and then having to sit on a postage-stamp sized space in the back as there’s no room left for me. It’s a good decision, plus it means the music there and back is a sight better. (Aintree playlist: Orange Juice, The Fall (obviously), The Wedding Present, A Certain Ratio, amongst others. It’s basically the best Indie Disco you’ll attend.) 

Thursday morning, 8am, and we leave the hotel for the track. And here’s the first result of the day, and what a result: the bookies car park, which for the last two years has resembled something that they might have held Junior Kickstart on back in the day, has been paved over! Okay, not paved, but they’ve put down a lot of stones to try and remedy the situation. It works, to a point - some water is still seeping through, but let’s not moan, at least we aren’t dragging the kit through muck and mud. They make sure we pay for the privilege, mind, with prices increasing 40% year on year. Up go the expenses…

For the bookmakers, Aintree is about a lot of standing around in the mornings. You have to be there early because the pick time for your pitch is around 10am each day, but of course there’s no point in starting to bet until midday at the earliest. So there’s not much to do. Thankfully, I can go and get some work done and, more importantly, grab a tea and bacon roll in the media centre, to which I have access. Enjoy the cold, lads, I’m off to find a nice warm chair!

Thursday is always the quietest day of the three, but equally you’re far more likely to bump into a lumpy bet, which is exactly what happens when we go 11-10 Sir Gino in the Juvenile Hurdle. Despite some sketchy leaps late on, our intrepid punter never really has that much worry and he duly lands him his £1100 quid profit. Four of the first five favourites going in is a disaster for many of the books, and they hardly get any respite in the Red Rum with second-favourite Sans Bruit beating the favourite. Only Diva Luna in the last offers any respite. 

I’m Southport-bound Thursday night to discuss some racing business with friends. I can’t reveal too much at this stage but all I can say is stay tuned, some exciting developments are in the pipeline that we hope can shake up the status quo a bit! Exciting times ahead, but I will say if we pull it off, it’ll probably be the end of my days working with the bookmakers, as my time will be taken up elsewhere. So enjoy the tales this summer, they may be the last…

Anyway, back to Aintree and Friday, Ladies Day. Let’s give the ladies of Liverpool their due; they know £2.50 each-way is a fiver, and that if there’s seven runners, you’ll only get first two each-way. Been brought up right, in my opinion. It seems packed out and almost inevitably, the push-and-shove means two lads start scrapping right in front of the joint. I should point out this is before the first race, too, so they aren’t even tanked up yet. There’s no security around to stop it, and we try and alert a nearby copper, but sadly he’s out on the track and can’t actually do a lot other than report it in. It’s fizzling out but one of the lads is covered in blood. Remarkably, he’s still around come Race 5, hawking a docket around, not knowing which bookie he’s had the bet with, so it’s not as if the course got active and kicked them out either. A very scary episode, particularly for a lot of young ladies who almost got caught up in it all, who hid around the back of the joint. 

Back to the on-track action. Friday is FOMO day. For those of you not down with the kids, like what I am, FOMO means Fear Of Missing Out. In betting terms, what this means is that every group of lads you come across that bet with you will all back the same horse, generally the favourite. Win together, lose together. Nobody in that group wants to be the one to say they backed something else as the rest celebrate a winner. Nothing worse. So for the first, they all want to be on Inothewayurthinkin and although at various times he looks in trouble thanks to some shoddy jumping, by the time we reach the last it’s game over for the books as the jolly romps clear. A big payout, and all they want to do is play it up on Kateira.

When that wins the second (from the unlucky Jango Baie) I’m already into the reserve float for more twenties, but they’re piling in now, and Mystical Power is their latest target. Bang, in it goes, and the punters are up 3-0. This is chaos now. More reserves are called for. Bet, bet, bet, pay, pay, pay. It’s just relentless and for all we’re trying to keep up, the queues look endless. It’s just one big party and it’s at the bookmakers' expense. Jonbon next, and they can’t shovel it on quick enough. £200 win bets come at you like confetti. There are reports coming in of books running out of money, many having to have back bets with each other in an effort to put on a tourniquet to stop the bleeding away of money. We pray to the racing Gods to help us out and get this one beat, but they’re JP fans too, and as the jolly Jonbon hits the front two out and goes on to win, it is PANDEMONIUM. 

I cannot, in words, give you a real sense of how bad things are at this point for some of the books but I kid you not when I say one more bad result and it might be the end for a few. Thankfully our tank is big enough to cope with another monster payout but we are eating through it. The crowd know they can’t lose on the day and they’re all-in on Shakem Up’Arry for the Topham. 

You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as ‘Arry is in no ‘urry to win, dropping right away on the home turn, and the 20-1 winner Arizona Cardinal is an excellent result for most of the books. It somewhat kills business off, with many punters pulling stumps well in front, which is a shame as the last two results are decent. Especially for me - I’ve backed El Jefe at 66-1 the day before, and it gets a right old roar as it comes from nowhere to win the lucky last. Oi oiiiii! First round is on me tonight, lads….

Grand National Day. I’m on a diet, which I might have mentioned before (just over a stone, thanks for asking) but stuff it,  I’m having a full English, as it might be the only time I get to eat before it goes dark tonight. Extra bacon, extra hash brown. It’s on the expenses, after all. 

We’re on track for 9am, and have a think about where’s best to bet. Last year we bet at the bottom of the “ramp” and it worked well, so that’s where we’ll go again today. Once in, I disappear off to the media centre for the final time. The champagne is out, and as it would be rude not to, I have a small glass. Unbeknownst to me, young Sam Boswell is live on Sky Sports Racing doing a piece and I manage to stand behind him in my salmon-pink shirt quaffing champagne, which causes a bit of merriment in the studio! Sam, I can only apologize…

Anyway, back to the joint at lunchtime and away we go. The earlier start time for the Saturday means it’s a little slow to get going but not too bad. Some of the books need a very good day to get in front after two days of being bashed from pillar-to-post. “If I just get the expenses for the week after today, I’d almost say that’s a result”, complains one Midlands bookie. 

If we were hoping to get off to a good start, then Gwennie May Boy gives that a good kicking. Almost to the exclusion of everything else, it was money for either him or West Balboa. Into the float we go again. 

“Please tell me we can get Brighterdaysahead beat, Davey Boy…”. Pinno has the prayer mat out already. I shake my head, as I think she’s a good thing. So she proves, and Bugise Seagull rolling in third (that’s surely spelt incorrectly, isn’t it?) at 50s smashes the each-way up as well. 

Cruz Control is better in the Freebooter and Strong Leader is even better in the Liverpool Hurdle (it’s at the bottom of the board numerically, remember what I told you? Punters work from the top down when they don’t know what to back) but then it’s National time. Business for the big one is strong, with plenty of money around. Sadly, the majority of it is for I Am Maximus and Limerick Lace, and whilst the latter fades out of things in one of the most open Nationals I can remember for a long time, the former powers clear in the style of a good horse and the payout queues are long ones. 

I say pay out - many of the lads, fuelled by some of Kimberley Ales’ finest, throw the lot back on Found A Fifty in the Maghull. With an hour’s gap between races, once they’ve had their bets they disappear off, which is just as well as the weather takes a terrible turn. The wind whips up, causing a tsunami of plastic pint pots to come tumbling down the ramp towards us, and the rain starts lashing in. This is reminiscent of a couple of years ago when similar happened, and it cleared the place in ten minutes then. None of this matters as Found A Fifty, who looks beat at the last as Master Chewy takes it up, rallies to the cause and gets back up. The roar is deafening and that’s basically game over. 

Most don’t stick around for the last, preferring to take their hard-earned winnings and get going, which is a shame as the weather gets better but, alas, all too late. On the plus side, I find the winner of the bumper merely by watching them go to post, which was nice and will pay for the petrol home. It’s been three days to forget for many of the bookmakers - one of the major Festivals that they would expect to win at, for many a disaster, and that coming off the back of a mediocre Cheltenham for them will mean a major Spring rethink. 

For me, this will be my last Aintree on the books. Next year, something completely different, as Monty Python might have said. Can’t say what yet, but whatever it is, I’ll not be getting any 6-1 about Sean Bowen winning the jockeys' title again. Not that I’m bitter about that, or anything…

- DM

Punchestown tilt not ruled out for Corach Rambler

Lucinda Russell will consider a tilt at the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup with Corach Rambler following his first fence exit in the Grand National last weekend.

Following a highly creditable third place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the 10-year-old was well fancied by many to claim back-to-back victories in the Aintree spectacular, but parted company with Derek Fox at the first obstacle and then fell riderless at the second.

Thankfully Corach Rambler returned to Scotland unscathed and having pleased in a midweek schooling session, Russell is not ruling out an end of season trip across the Irish Sea.

“When Corach Rambler unseated Derek at the first in Saturday’s Grand National, it certainly wasn’t the fairytale result the team and I had dreamt about for our pride and joy! It was naturally very disappointing, but I’m delighted to report that he came home safe and sound,” she told William Hill.

“We schooled him on Wednesday morning to make sure he hadn’t lost any confidence after Aintree, and he seems really happy. He’s very pleased to be back in work and there are no ill-effects from Liverpool, which is fantastic.

“Regarding future plans this season, he’s still got an entry in the Punchestown Gold Cup. Immediately after the Grand National, I wasn’t that keen to run him again this term, but if he’s very fresh and feels good, we’ll think about taking him to Ireland.

“We’ll see what each day brings and decide nearer the time, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

I Am Maximus booked for hero’s return on Tuesday evening

Leighlinbridge will welcome the return of yet another Willie Mullins champion on Tuesday evening, with Randox Grand National hero I Am Maximus set to enjoy his homecoming parade.

It is little over a month since Galopin Des Champs received the acclaim of the locals after successfully defending his crown in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a fourth blue riband in six years for Mullins following the back-to-back victories of Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.

Similar scenes can be expected on Tuesday, with the JP McManus-owned I Am Maximus, along with Mullins and jockey Paul Townend, due to parade through Leighlinbridge in County Carlow at 5.30pm before posing for photographs outside of the renowned Lord Bagenal Inn.

Galopin Des Champs poses at the Lord Bagenal Inn
Galopin Des Champs poses at the Lord Bagenal Inn (Damien Eagers/PA)

Patrick Mullins reported I Am Maximus to have returned to Ireland none the worse after providing his father with a second National win, the first being Hedgehunter 19 years ago, and reserved special praise for Townend, who completed the extremely rare feat of winning the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year.

“It was an incredible day and it was some ride from Paul, he was at his best,” said Mullins.

“There’s not a bother on him (I Am Maximus). It’s not the race it was, so it’s a bit easier to come out of it well.”

Gilligan so proud of another fine effort from Buddy One

Paul Gilligan has an eye on the Punchestown Festival after another huge run from stable star Buddy One in the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle.

The seven-year-old did connections proud when ridden by the trainer’s son, Jack, to finish fourth at 40-1 in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

From there he took aim at the Aintree staying prize and this time he was not so overlooked in the market when starting at odds of 15-2.

After running prominently the gelding hit the front with three flights left to jump and at one point looked the winner, but it was Olly Murphy’s Strong Leader who surged to the head of the field to prevail.

Buddy One was still a gallant second, however, and could now head to Punchestown to round off his season before he is aimed at a novice chasing campaign next year.

“He came home 100 per cent from it, fresh and well, I’m over the moon with the run,” said Gilligan.

Buddy One winning the Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham earlier in the season
Buddy One winning the Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham earlier in the season (Nigel French/PA)

“It’s a pity one had to pass us, but we’re delighted with him and he’s very, very well after it.

“He’s run two massive races in Grade One company over hurdles and he’ll jump a fence, we’ll definitely go chasing with him next year.

“It’s up in the air whether he’ll go to Punchestown with him, we possibly will, in fact I think we might, but we’ll see and the main thing to us is that he’s safe and sound.”

Gilligan is hoping Buddy One’s exploits at the two biggest National Hunt meetings in England will do the trick when it comes to attracting new owners to his Galway stable.

He said: “We had a great time in Cheltenham and Aintree and these horses are hard to come by, we’re just hoping next time we come to England somebody will say ‘will you take a horse or two for me!’.”

Gilligan is father to Jack, who claims 7lb, and also Danny, who claims 5lb and rides predominantly for Gordon Elliott.

Danny Gilligan and Chemical Energy jump the Chair during the Randox Grand National
Danny Gilligan and Chemical Energy jump the Chair during the Randox Grand National (Mike Egerton/PA)

Both jockeys were in demand throughout the Aintree meeting, with Danny partnering Elliott’s Chemical Energy in the Grand National.

Gilligan said of his sons: “I have two lads riding on the big stage, Jack has been riding for us here and Danny is riding for Gordon and it’s a great old feeling.

“Myself and my wife Natalie, we’re proud like any parents would be, we get a wonderful kick out of it.”

National sixth fires Aintree dream for Maxwell

David Maxwell described riding in this year’s Randox Grand National as “better than anything I could ever have dreamed of” after finishing sixth on Ain’t That A Shame at Aintree.

Seventeenth in the hands of Rachael Blackmore when fancied for the race in 2023, the Henry de Bromhead-trained 10-year-old returned to Liverpool for a second crack at the world’s most famous steeplechase having been purchased by the property developer to fulfil his long-held ambition of riding in the National.

Sent off at 40-1, the Thyestes Chase scorer was still in contention at the second last, with the 45-year-old admitting for one brief second he allowed himself to dream of joining the decorated list of amateur pilots to win the National.

David Maxwell heading to post at Aintree
David Maxwell heading to post at Aintree (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“It was way better than anything I could ever have dreamed of and there was no way I could ever have dreamed of still being in touch at the Melling Road with two to jump,” said Maxwell.

“You look around and there were plenty of good horses who had cried enough and although there were still plenty of good horses going well, my fella was going as well as anything at that point.

“I just looked around and thought I was exactly where I wanted to be and then I looked around again and thought there are still a lot of horses still cruising here. After that I was aiming to get home and see if I could get in the first six.

“The National now is such a grade of race that you’ve basically got Gold Cup horses running in front of you and proper graded horses running in a handicap.”

David Maxwell aboard Cat Tiger in the Foxhunters in 2021
David Maxwell aboard Cat Tiger in the Foxhunters in 2021 (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Maxwell is no stranger to competing over the Grand National fences and has finished on the podium on four occasions in the amateurs-only Foxhunters’. But his first experience of going an extra circuit in the famous Aintree marathon more than lived up to his expectations.

“It was some thrill and I said to the agent afterwards that if he had put another zero on the price it would have been worth it,” continued Maxwell.

“He’s a lovely horse and he made one mistake the whole way round at the second fence after the Canal Turn. He went down to Canal Turn with me just leaving him alone – pop, pop, pop – and then I suddenly thought I was getting the hang of it and could see a stride, I went ‘one, two’ and he went three and ploughed through it.

“His ears were stuffed with cotton wool so he wouldn’t have heard me, but I said ‘sorry about that lad, I won’t do it again’. From then on I just left him to it and he’s an absolute pro.”

Some had questioned the owner-rider’s participation in the race in the build-up, with Maxwell himself pointing out an online poll had come down in favour of him sitting out the race.

With that in mind, he was conscious of his responsibility to both the famous race and his amateur colleagues, desperate not to give the naysayers opportunity to dispute amateur participation that has long been part of the fabric of the Grand National.

“It is important that I’m safe and that was my only nervousness,” explained Maxwell.

“I wasn’t nervous about riding round the course, I was nervous about making a mistake on a very big stage and it is really important that I did a good, professional job so no one could say we need to examine amateur participation or conditional jockeys in the National.

Jockey David Maxwell relaxes at Aintree
Jockey David Maxwell relaxes at Aintree (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“The thing people like about these National races is the element of chance. They are big-field handicaps and you could quite comfortably get 50-1 and 100-1 winners and when you add amateurs into the mix, there’s an extra element of chance.

“So it is important that the amateur element is not taken out because of incompetence. Being amateur is OK but being incompetent is not and you have to be competent.”

Maxwell also gave his seal of approval to the array of alterations to the race which led to no fallers and the highest number of finishers since 2005.

“It was great for racing to get 32 horses home safely and 21 finishers,” said Maxwell.

“I thought they did the right thing reducing the field size but having ridden in it, I think they could maybe try 36, I think that would be fine. It probably did just give that little bit extra room on the racecourse and at no point did it feel crowded apart from Canal Turn when everyone bunches up in the corner – there was plenty of room out there.

“They have done a brilliant job with that course and it is still a spectacle. When people say the fences are soft they are just wrong. Cat Tiger who is a very good jumper, he has a tendency to rattle one on his way round and he rattled the fifth and I came off. They still need jumping, it’s not a cake walk and fences like the Canal Turn are always going to be quite technical, jumping and turning 45 degrees at racing pace.

“I think the changes were good and the race is still a spectacle which it needs to be and it needs to be safe. We went a sensible speed out there on Saturday and I think the real winner was racing.”

Well and truly bitten by the Grand National bug, attentions now turn to returning to Merseyside with Ain’t That A Shame in 12 months time, via a prep over the famous spruce in the Becher Chase in December.

David Maxwell hopes to be a part of future Grand Nationals
David Maxwell hopes to be a part of future Grand Nationals (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Maxwell is also ambitiously plotting to break Dick Saunders’ long-held record and become the race’s oldest winning jockey.

“One hundred per cent we’re going back next year. It will be Becher Chase, Thyestes Chase, Grand National,” said Maxwell.

“The oldest winner of the National was 48 and I need to get a few more years experience in before I can think of winning it. If I aim to win it in 2028 then I will be 49. Then I would be the oldest winner of the National!

“When any National horse is coming up for sale from now on, I’m buying it!”

Henrietta Knight backing I Am Maximus for Gold Cup glory

It was Henrietta Knight who first identified I Am Maximus’ star quality and she is now backing the Randox Grand National hero to go on and win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Gold Cup-winning trainer was in her role as racing manager to the late Michael Grech when she first laid eyes on I Am Maximus as a yearling and it was a clear case of love at first sight for Knight, who relished every moment of the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old’s Aintree triumph.

The 77-year-old now feels course winner I Am Maximus has all the capabilities to emulate her own Best Mate and capture the blue riband at the Cheltenham Festival.

Knight said: “I think he could win a Gold Cup. I’m not sure how Willie will cope with all his horses for the Gold Cup and which one he would consider the best, but he is a real stayer, Maximus, and he likes Cheltenham – he loves the hill.

I Am Maximus in action in the Grand National
I Am Maximus in action in the Grand National (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I really enjoyed watching the National and after he jumped the first two fences I said ‘he’s loving it, he’s got the hang of it and loves these fences’.

“We were just watching him creeping and creeping and he made that one mistake at The Chair, where he rather caught Paul (Townend, jockey) by surprise and he had to call a cab, but then Paul was very good as he didn’t rush him.

“He just let him get his confidence again and on he went on the second circuit, I thought it was fantastic to watch.”

I Am Maximus spent his first few summers with Knight at her West Lockinge Farm in Wantage and after the early stages of his racing career were overseen by Nicky Henderson, he switched to Mullins, who Knight credits with helping the burgeoning talent fulfil his destiny of winning Grand Nationals.

“I had the horse here a lot for two summers and parts of winter as well and he won a bumper and a novice hurdle for Nicky Henderson,” continued Knight.

Henrietta Knight has hailed Willie Mullins' handling of I Am Maximus
Henrietta Knight has hailed Willie Mullins’ handling of I Am Maximus (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“Mike wanted to move all his horses to Ireland and it was my idea to move him to Willie’s. I doubt anyone else would have won a National with him and he has trained him so well.”

She added: “I felt sorry for Jody McGarvey not riding him because he has done a good job on him this year, but that is how it goes in racing and you have to have your stable jockey on your top horse. Paul’s riding fantastic and I would want him on board.”

The son of Authorized is the latest champion off the Tom Costello production line that had been the source of Knight’s very own great, Best Mate.

The Costellos have been Knight’s go-to family when searching for high-quality new stock and I Am Maximus was an instant hit with not just Knight herself, but the horse’s original owner, who sadly died before his former charge reached his peak.

“I picked him out as a yearling and then I went back and bought him for Mike Grech as a three-year-old from the Costellos, from whom I bought Best Mate. He came from a fantastic place and all my best horses have come from them, not just Best Mate, but Calgary Bay, Racing Demon and Somersby as well.

Henrietta Knight with Best Mate who is her greatest purchase from Tom Costello
Henrietta Knight with Best Mate who is her greatest purchase from Tom Costello (David Davies/PA)

“They produce good horses and they bought him from France as a yearling. I always loved him.

“Mike adored the horse and he was named after his wife Maxine, it was his favourite horse. It was unfortunate he had to give up his racing interests and when that time came, Willie thought he was an ideal candidate for JP (McManus).”

Shifting to the left at his fences has always been a trademark of I Am Maximus’ chasing career, while he has always been regarded as a touch ‘quirky’ by those who have dealt with him on the racecourse.

However, Knight – a known master on the schooling grounds – has nothing but praise for his jumping ability and explains how he always had the hallmarks of an exceptional staying chaser in the making.

“Most of the best horses are a little quirky and he has a little bit of his own ideas,” she said.

“He’s very straightforward to train but he has his own ideas about jumping. He was always a very, very good jumper and a careful jumper, but he just likes to measure his jumps up by going left-handed.

“In the Olympics, you will see the high jumpers go off sideways to measure the jump and it is what I Am Maximus has always done. That’s his mark and how he likes to do it.”

She went on: “He was always destined to be a chaser and he was unbelievable when he was here as a youngster – we would jump him a lot. He doesn’t want to fall, he always wants to get it right and that means he sometimes takes some rather strange jumps that catch the jockeys by surprise.

“I have some fantastic pictures of Maximus jumping all kinds of poles and everything else here, he could showjump, he is that careful, and he has got the time to be careful over staying trips. He’s good at conserving his energy and he doesn’t waste any in a race.

“He’s a very good horse and he would have gone round again in the National!”

There were no fallers in this year’s Grand National, as 21 of the 32-strong field completed the marathon course.

I Am Maximus leads home a collection of high-class performers in the Grand National
I Am Maximus leads home a collection of high-class performers in the Grand National (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

That is the highest number of finishers since 2005 and with the first four home all previous Grade One winners, Knight concedes the race is a far different proposition to the test her late husband Terry Biddlecombe would have encountered as a jockey, but a change that is necessary to adapt with the times.

“The first four home were all class horses and it just shows that cream comes to the top in races like that now,” explained Knight.

“It’s no longer a race where you will get a huge outsider from the bottom of the weights crop up, I don’t think. They skipped round a lot of the horses yesterday, they all looked fresh and everything looked good.

“The only thing is I think on the second circuit there is hardly anything to jump at as they’ve kicked all the top off – I think you could canter round on your pony and jump those. They are not what they were, but that is what the sport is now and people want to see a race without accidents.

“It’s just adapting to the times and it’s not like the brave riders of old who hunted round sitting on the back of their saddles on a long rein, with pot luck and huge fences. It’s more of a professional race now.”

Jonbon set for Sandown defence or Punchestown

Jonbon could defend his Celebration Chase title or head to the Punchestown Festival before the season ends, after forming one half of a Grade One double for Nicky Henderson at Aintree’s Grand National Festival.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old was one of a number of big names from Seven Barrows to miss the Cheltenham Festival, with Henderson effectively shutting down operations as a poor run of form hit his Lambourn-based string.

However, he proved his class alongside hot juvenile prospect Sir Gino, as the Henderson team bounced back to form on Merseyside, their time in the doldrums proving short lived.

The Joe and Marie Donnelly-owned Sir Gino is finished for the season after claiming the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, but there could be further business for Jonbon to take care of, either at Sandown on the final day of the season or on a raiding mission to Ireland.

Nico de Boinville celebrates aboard Jonbon
Nico de Boinville celebrates aboard Jonbon (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“Sir Gino, that will be him done, but there is every chance Jonbon could go again and we will have a look at the Celebration Chase or Punchestown,” said Henderson.

“If you wait for Punchestown, you get an extra four days, which might be a help, but I think both of mine, because they hadn’t been to Cheltenham, they probably had a bit of an advantage here.

“There is room to go again with Jonbon and we will see who is going where and what.

“He did it last year in his novice chase season – he went to Sandown for the Celebration and has done the double act before. He probably had an easier race in the novice chase last year than he did on Friday but it was just a very good race.”

It was Jonbon’s first attempt at two and a half miles when successful in the Melling Chase, but he will be dropping back to two miles if he is to be seen again this spring.

However, Henderson is envisaging a return to further after that possible assignment, with plenty to be discussed with owner McManus before the autumn.

“He would have to come back to two miles because there isn’t anything for him over further and then we will have to sit down and think,” he continued.

“I was saying before the race I was sure he would get the two and a half and wouldn’t be surprised if we were soon talking about three (miles).

“Nico (de Boinville) wasn’t that convinced about the three, but we will see and I haven’t discussed it with JP yet – he’s got plenty on his mind at present counting up all his Grade One winners.”

Shishkin in action at Aintree
Shishkin in action at Aintree (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Jonbon is not the only Seven Barrows inmate in line for a trip to the Punchestown Festival, with Shishkin on course for a long-awaited clash with dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old could only finish fourth in defence of his Bowl title at Aintree, but Henderson feels the set-up of the Kildare track would suit his multiple Grade One winner much better than Liverpool.

“I would like Shishkin to go to Punchestown and I think he would be ready for it,” added Henderson.

“I think the track would suit him a little bit more than Aintree and he just didn’t look quite sharp enough round there.

“He couldn’t just get out of pockets and holes at the right moment. Tactically, it was a tough race and he just lacked that little bit of zip, so we might zip him up a little bit for Punchestown.”

Grand National: Five things we learned

The 2024 Randox Grand National has been hailed as a roaring success and there is no doubt Aintree officials will be keen to build on the favourable feedback received.

Here, we take a look at five things we learned from this year’s Liverpool spectacular:

Quality over quantity works

Reducing the number of declared runners from 40 to 34 caused quite a stir and when two more pulled out on the day of the race, a few eyebrows would have been raised. But there was no need to worry.

With 21 completing the course and a whole host of horses being firmly in contention entering the home stretch, there could be no suggestion of restricted numbers diluting the overall experience.

Sir Anthony McCoy said: “It was the most wonderful finish. I’ve never seen so many horses in with a chance of winning the Grand National so late in the race. What an incredible race – just a brilliant spectacle.”

Randox Grand National 2024 – Grand National Day – Aintree Racecourse
Paul Townend aboard I Am Maximus after winning the Randox Grand National (David Davies for the Jockey Club).

The class of the major players also shone through, with the first four home all rated 155 or higher. I Am Maximus is now being talked of as a future Gold Cup contender, while 2021 blue riband hero Minella Indo was back in third.

Runner-up Delta Work has two Cheltenham cross-country wins on his CV and multiple Grade One victories, while fourth-placed Galvin struck at elite level in the Savills Chase a few years ago after previously claiming the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.

Other recent victors such as Corach Rambler (third in this year’s Gold Cup), Noble Yeats and Tiger Roll highlight how much ability is now needed to challenge for top honours in the Grand National.

Trainer and owner limits are not required

The British Horseracing Authority toyed with the idea of restricting each trainer to a maximum of four runners in elite handicaps, but that was swiftly dismissed and in the end it was hardly noticed that Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott saddled 15 between them.

Some connections who missed out on a place in the starting line-up may cast a disapproving glance at Mullins having 125-1 outsider Janidil pulled up, as were Elliott’s Chemical Energy (50-1), Farouk d’Alene (100-1) and Minella Crooner (125-1).

But no one could say they were filling up slots to keep out more fancied entries, as illustrated by Elliott finishing second with 28-1 shot Delta Work and fourth with Galvin at 40-1.

Leading owner JP McManus was winning the race for the third time and I Am Maximus was one of five to carry his famous green and gold hoops, but no one could have been more thrilled to come out on top.

Flanked by his grandchildren, he told ITV Racing: “I love everything about the race. I love Liverpool, the excitement of coming here, the build-up to the National, it’s just a very, very special place. When you win, it’s a wonderful spectacle.”

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to National fences

Several obstacles are not the famously daunting propositions they once were and the first fence is now closer to the start. But few will be complaining after the race featured no official fallers and no serious injuries.

Of course, the National is now a far-less demanding test but no one misses the days when tired horses would get stuck halfway over mammoth fences, or the even-more gory sight of fallers rolling back into the ditch at Becher’s Brook.

Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale beamed: “We’re absolutely delighted, the changes have clearly had a very positive impact. I think it was probably the cleanest National I’ve ever seen.

“You’ve got to go back to 1992 to find more finishers, so we’re really pleased. I think the standing start seemed to work and I thought the jockeys were very sensible and it was a very well-ridden race, great credit to all involved. It was a really exciting finish, the National exactly as we want it.”

Clerk of the course Sulekha Varma added: “Everybody is coming up to me saying what a good race to watch it was, it was exciting and there were so many horses still in contention and we had a fabulous winner.”

The Corinthian spirit lives on

It is only two years since Sam Waley-Cohen struck on board Noble Yeats, but it was a long time between drinks for the amateur riders’ brigade, who had enjoyed such great success through Charlie Fenwick on Ben Nevis, Dick Saunders on Grittar and Marcus Armytage on Mr Frisk between 1980 and 1990.

Such is the high standard of jockeyship these days, it will take something special for a non-professional to prevail again, but David Maxwell carried the Corinthian torch admirably in finishing sixth on Ain’t That A Shame.

The millionaire property developer cheekily declared: “That was as much fun as you can have with your trousers on!”

He added: “Crossing the Melling Road I couldn’t believe I was still in touch…I thought ‘bloody hell, I’m going to finish the Grand National’, then I thought ‘I’m going to finish somewhere near the frame’. I’ve never thought it would go like this. It was such a thrill.”

Gina Andrews may be a more accomplished amateur, being crowned champion point-to-point rider 10 times and notching more than 400 winners, but she will have been just as thrilled with the run of Latenightpass, who led two out before fading back to 12th.

Racing should be fun to watch

Aintree attracted just under 60,000 spectators on Saturday and millions more watched the big race on television. Just as the Melbourne Cup is dubbed ‘the race that stops a nation’, the Grand National still has the ability to grip an audience ahead of all other distractions now available.

Nicky Henderson described the action on Merseyside as the “best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere”, and he didn’t even saddle a National runner.

He said: “It was a fabulous Grand National, with lots of horses getting round and everyone safe and sound, which is always paramount…it wants to be celebrated and paraded and everyone saying well done to everyone.”

Dickon White, who runs Aintree as the Jockey Club’s regional director, commented: “The Randox Grand National has a long and storied history and today will be remembered as one of the truly great races.

“Liverpool has once again played its part in making this a fantastic three days, creating a world class atmosphere off the track to match the world-class action on it.”

Ruby Walsh, who won the Grand National twice, summed up this year’s event when stating: “If that doesn’t convince people that this is a wonderful sport then I don’t know what will.”

Henderson just delighted to see old friends grab National glory

He could have been forgiven for thinking ‘what if’ when former pupil I Am Maximus sauntered his way to Randox Grand National glory – but Nicky Henderson was simply thrilled for all concerned and three days at Aintree he feels the sport can look back on with pride.

It still seems remarkable Henderson has not trained a National winner during what continues to be a hugely distinguished career, and it is perhaps indicative of his luck in the world’s most famous steeplechase that I Am Maximus was housed at his Lambourn base before switching to Willie Mullins in Ireland.

The future National hero won both a Cheltenham bumper and a Newbury novice hurdle while in the care of Henderson, who admits he was the one runner he was keeping a close eye on during Saturday’s main event.

I Am Maximus won a bumper at Cheltenham when trained by Nicky Henderson
I Am Maximus won a bumper at Cheltenham when trained by Nicky Henderson (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’ve let one slip through the net,” quipped Henderson. “It’s ironic, you spend 45 years trying to win the Grand National and you finally get your mitts on one and we let it get away.

“He was here and spent his first two seasons here – he was a lovely horse – and he was the one horse I wanted to win yesterday.

“I suppose the only thing I might have done to contribute to his success was probably the way we minded him quite a bit when he was young, because he was big and backwards and raw.

“He was a lovely horse with a great temperament, but he wasn’t really ready for big battles in those days and just needed to be treated with respect – and I think that’s what we did.”

He was owned at the time by Michael Grech, who was to switch all his horses to Ireland in the summer of 2022, with I Am Maximus joining Mullins’ swelling Closutton ranks to embark on a novice chasing campaign which culminated in Irish Grand National success in April 2023.

Grech sold I Am Maximus to JP McManus before that Fairyhouse triumph and sadly did not get to see his former charge’s finest hour at Aintree, having died in September last year. But Henderson believes the horse’s big-race victory will be a lasting tribute to his good friend.

He continued: “I’m thrilled, he belongs to JP, who is one of my biggest supporters here and Willie is a great mate – I told him he needed to go get that horse. I’m genuinely thrilled for them.

“Sadly, he had to move on (from ourselves) and Michael Grech was lovely, we had some tremendous days together and it was great fun. The horses then had to go over to Ireland and sadly Michael died and it’s very sad because he was a lovely man.

“All his family were there yesterday, Maxine (his wife) and his children and it was a sad day for them, but he won in Mike’s memory.”

Nicky Henderson was in good form at Aintree
Nicky Henderson was in good form at Aintree (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Henderson did not have a runner in this year’s National, but was keen to heap praise on officials at Aintree for not just the successful alterations they made to the race itself, but for the three days in Liverpool overall.

The 73-year-old roared back to form himself on Merseyside after a testing Cheltenham Festival, with star performers Sir Gino and Jonbon both scooping Grade One honours.

He described the action on Merseyside as the “best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere”, with racing deserving of a massive pat on the back after a thrilling three days of action in the north west.

“I thought it was a fantastic race and it was a brilliant three days, you won’t see better racing anywhere,” said Henderson.

“Aintree need huge credit for it and after Cheltenham everyone was so down and out, it was all so gloomy and everything was wrong, so after all that, we need to say this was brilliant.

“I wasn’t going round Cheltenham doom and gloom because I couldn’t play, but I was back playing the game again this week which was good fun and the horses ran well throughout the week.

“It was a fabulous Grand National, with lots of horses getting round and everyone safe and sound, which is always a paramount – and I just thought it was the best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere and it wants to be celebrated and paraded and everyone saying well done to everyone.

“The sport did very well for three days and I know we are all under the cosh at Cheltenham and under pressure and maybe things get a bit heated or overtried, but up at Aintree everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy it and they did – and I thought it was first class all the way through.”

National glory has no chance of getting old for McManus

Leading owner JP McManus finished an incredible three-days at Aintree by watching I Am Maximus provide him with a thrilling third triumph in the Randox Grand National.

The famous green and gold silks of McManus were a frequent sight in the winner’s enclosure over the three-day meeting in Liverpool, with the Emmet Mullins-trained Its On The Line scoring over the Grand National fences in the Foxhunters on Thursday before a Grade One treble on Friday afternoon.

Inothewayurthinkin, Mystical Power and Jonbon were all successful on day two, but the best was still to come.

Although McManus had spoken of his liking for the chance of Limerick Lace – bred by his wife, Noreen – in the lead-up to the world’s most famous steeplechase, it was his first colours that were carried to victory by the Willie Mullins-trained favourite, I Am Maximus, who ran out the most impressive of winners in the hands of Paul Townend.

JP McManus has had a fine few days at Aintree
JP McManus has had a fine few days at Aintree (Mike Egerton/PA)

Flanked by his grandchildren, McManus was lifting the trophy for a third time as I Am Maximus joined the likes of Rhyme ‘n’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde to follow up victory in the Irish Grand National on Merseyside.

In the aftermath he was keen to stress his love for both the great race and Aintree, and told ITV: “I love everything about the race.

“I love Liverpool, the excitement of coming here, the build-up to the National, it’s just a very, very special place. When you win it’s a wonderful spectacle.

Paul Townend aboard I Am Maximus after winning the Randox Grand National
Paul Townend aboard I Am Maximus after winning the Randox Grand National (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“The Grand National, you are always looking forward to it and what you might have for the next one because it is such a special race.

“Willie planned the campaign with this horse a long time back and thankfully it worked out.”

McManus has already played a key part in National history having provided Sir Anthony McCoy with a long-awaited Aintree success when Don’t Push It struck in 2010, while that was topped in 2021 when Rachael Blackmore rode herself into the record books aboard Minella Times in the Irishman’s colours.

‘The National exactly as we want it’ – Jockey Club chief hails Aintree changes

“The National exactly as we want it” – that was the verdict of Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale after the first running of the Randox Grand National under new conditions.

A number of revisions were made to the famous four-and-a-quarter-mile chase this year, not least reducing the maximum field from 40 to 34 runners – although two late withdrawals meant 32 horses actually went to post for the earlier 4pm start.

The pre-race parade was altered to a canter in front of the stands, with a standing start implemented and the first fence moved closer to the off. The 11th fence was also reduced in height by two inches on the take-off side, with some ‘levelling off’ on the landing side to reduce the height of the drop.

Runners and riders during the Grand National
Runners and riders during the Grand National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The changes resulted in 21 finishers and no official fallers in the Aintree showpiece, although last year’s winner Corach Rambler did come down at the second fence when running loose after unshipping his rider at the first obstacle.

Truesdale said: “We’re absolutely delighted, the changes have clearly had a very positive impact. I think it was probably the cleanest National I’ve ever seen.

“You’ve got to go back to 1992 to find more finishers, so we’re really pleased. I think the standing start seemed to work and I thought the jockeys were very sensible and it was a very well-ridden race, great credit to all involved.

“It was a really exciting finish, the National exactly as we want it.”

Clerk of the course Sulekha Varma echoed Truesdale’s thoughts, although she is keen to see what impact moving the first fence closer to the start had on the speed at which the field met the initial obstacle.

She said: “Everybody is coming up to me saying what a good race to watch it was, it was exciting and there were so many horses still in contention and we had a fabulous winner.

“There’ll always be time for review and analysis, it’s not right now, but we do that every year. As it stands we are very pleased so all credit to the jockeys and to everybody involved in the race, it’s been great.

“A few people have said they thought the standing start worked well which is great, I need to find out what speed they got to going to the first. What a shame for Corach that he went at the first, but there’s been some great performances and they all came back safe and sound.”

I Am Maximus led home 21 finishers in this year's Grand National
I Am Maximus led home 21 finishers in this year’s Grand National (Nigel French/Jockey Club)

Given the very wet winter and spring so far, there had been fears the going would be heavy on the National course. But after some drying weather, the race was eventually run on soft ground.

Varma added: “The ground hasn’t been bad, there were one or two doomsayers before we started. I bit my tongue and decided to wait to see how it rode, but overall I’m pleased.”

Critics of the changes felt the reduced field in particular would detract from the Aintree spectacle, but Rachael Blackmore, who won the race on Minella Times in 2021 and finished third this year on Minella Indo, did not feel the race lost any excitement.

She said: “I got a nice passage round and had plenty of space when I wanted it. It was still a fantastic race to ride in.”

Retired multiple champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy said: “It was the most wonderful finish. I’ve never seen so many horses in with a chance of winning the Grand National so late in the race. What an incredible race – just a brilliant spectacle.”

Ruby Walsh, who won the Grand National twice, added: “If that doesn’t convince people that this is a wonderful sport then I don’t know what will.”

Maximus returns for happy Grand National punters

Bookmakers were put to the sword as I Am Maximus’ supreme Randox Grand National triumph meant the layers left Aintree licking their wounds.

It has been a chastening week for the layers in Liverpool, with a huge amount of winning favourites inflicting misery.

And that was compounded in the main event itself as Willie Mullins’ 7-1 market leader became the second consecutive winning favourite of the world’s most famous steeplechase after Corach Rambler’s success in 2023.

“It was a tough opening two days of the Aintree Festival for the bookies and the Grand National didn’t provide any respite on day three,” explained BoyleSports’ Brian O’Keeffe.

“I Am Maximus delivered a knockout blow in the big one for punters as he was one of our biggest liabilities. The placed horses weren’t kind to us either, but there’s always next year!”

It was Mullins’ second win in the Aintree showpiece and the sport’s leading trainer is no stranger to giving the bookies a bashing on the biggest stage, as I Am Maximus led home a 1-2-3-4 for Irish-trained horses.

“It was that man again Willie Mullins who so often is a thorn in our side,” said Sam Boswell from BetVictor.

“Whilst we had a significant spread of money in the race, we still ended up down thanks to the brilliant performance from his eight-year-old who had plenty of backers.

“Minella Indo, Delta Work and Kitty’s Light who all placed had plenty of each-way support too and it continued the theme of the jumps season which has been utter Irish domination in the big races.”

I Am Maximus’ victory puts Mullins in pole position to claim a first-ever UK trainers’ championship and he is now the general favourite to lift the trophy aloft at Sandown in two weeks time.

“The £1million Grand National was always likely to have a massive say in this season’s NH trainers’ title race, and of the three contenders, Willie Mullins went into the race with the strongest hand,” said Coral’s David Stevens, with the firm offering 4-5 for the master of Closutton to win the title.

“Victory for I Am Maximus has seen him claim favouritism for the championship for the first time, as the competition moves to next week’s big Ayr meeting and the £250,000 Coral Scottish National.

“The Grand National remains the biggest day in the betting calendar, and while I Am Maximus had plenty of supporters, he was one of many runners to prove popular on this unique occasion, and so we’ve no complaints about the result.”

Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes added: “This year’s trainers’ title race is giving the Premier League race a run for its money. In what has turned into a very exciting three horse race, Willie Mullins’ Grand National victory has put him firmly in front of his rivals.”

Paul Binfield for Paddy Power said: “Around 20 seconds and Corach Rambler taking an unfortunate tumble at the first saved us over £5m.

“The winner was spotted by many punters, but despite that the bookies have had a result.”

So close, but Elliott has to give best to Mullins again

Gordon Elliott again had to give best to the “thorn in his side” that is Willie Mullins, with Delta Work finding only I Am Maximus too good for Delta Work in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The two powerhouse trainers have long matched strides at the top of Irish racing, with Elliott having to settle for second in the Irish trainers’ championship on multiple occasions as well as on some of the biggest of British stages, including when Gerri Colombe chased home Galopin Des Champs in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Elliott fielded seven in his bid for a fourth Grand National following Silver Birch (2007) and dual hero Tiger Roll (2018 and 2019), with particularly high hopes for Delta Work who was having a third crack at the race having finished third in 2022 and unseated his rider last year.

But as has been the story for much of the season, Mullins was a cut above the rest, with I Am Maximus coming home seven and a half lengths ahead of Delta Work, with fellow Elliott runner Galvin a further length back in fourth.

While disappointed to be denied, Elliott hailed the both the efforts of his runners and the “exceptional” winner.

He said: “It just didn’t happen for us. No one remembers second, I don’t anyway.

“Delta Work was awesome and Galvin is a warrior, I’m so proud of him and I’m so lucky with the horses I have.

“Delta Work was flying come here and I thought this was his year. He ran his race and just got beat by a better horse, that’s it.

“The winner is exceptional and Willie Mullins remains a thorn in my side.”

Jack Kennedy was aboard Delta Work and added: “He ran a cracker, delighted with him. He made a couple of mistakes but travelled well and ran a great race.”

The gelding did not return to the winner’s enclosure and Elliott explained: “Delta Work didn’t come back in, but he’s fine, he just has a cut on a hind leg.”

Minella Indo (centre) had to settle for third
Minella Indo (centre) had to settle for third (Bradley Collyer/PA)

It briefly looked as though Rachael Blackmore was going to add a second National to her historic first win aboard Minella Times three years ago when Minella Indo jumped the last in front, but she was overhauled on the run to the line, eventually coming home third aboard the 2021 Gold Cup winner.

She said: “It was a massive run, he’s some horse. He gave me a great ride around there and I felt for a split second we were going to do it, but then I blinked and I could see the green and gold (colours of owner JP McManus) flash by me in a shot.

“He was in against younger legs, but it was a brilliant run and congratulations to Paul Townend, JP and Willie.”

Minella Indo’s trainer Henry de Bromhead admitted he believed another famous success could be on the cards – but he was nevertheless thrilled in defeat, with future plans for the 11-year-old yet to be discussed.

Henry de Bromhead was delighted with the performances of his two runners
Henry de Bromhead was delighted with the performances of his two runners (Mike Egerton/PA)

De Bromhead said: “He’s a warrior, isn’t he? Just brilliant. I’m delighted with him.

“I thought we were going to win it there for a second, he travelled so well for Rachael, she was brilliant and they were both brilliant together.

“To get horses like him is incredible, we’ve had so much fun with him.

“We’ll see about next year, we’ll enjoy today and see – he obviously owes us nothing and all we want to do is look after him. But I tell you what, the way he jumped round there he looked like he loved every minute of it.”

De Bromhead also saddled Ain’t That A Shame to finish sixth for amateur rider and owner David Maxwell, who purchased the horse last month specifically to ride in the National.

He added: “David gave Ain’t That A Shame a super ride, he was brilliant on him the whole way. I’m delighted for him as he got such a thrill from it.”

Maxwell thoroughly enjoyed his National spin and said: “That was as much fun as you can have with your trousers on!

“Crossing the Melling Road I couldn’t believe I was still in touch, but I could also see so many going well. It wasn’t like there was just the three of us travelling well. I thought ‘bloody hell, I’m going to finish the Grand National’, then I thought ‘I’m going to finish somewhere near the frame’. I’ve never thought it would go like this. It was such a thrill.

“Damn right I’ll be back here next year. The horse is going to have to run in the race until he is 15!”

I Am Maximus (centre) on his way to Aintree success
I Am Maximus (centre) on his way to Aintree success (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Kitty’s Light fared best of the numerically limited British-trained challenge among the 32 starters, coming home a 10-and-quarter-length fifth for trainer Christian Williams and jockey Jack Tudor.

Williams said: “He travelled and jumped so well, I thought we were the winners all the way. I’m immensely proud of him and those were graded horses in front of him at the finish, including a Gold Cup winner.

“I’m unsure where he will go, because I really wanted him to win the National, but we will probably look at Sandown (for the bet365 Gold Cup).”

Last year’s National winner Corach Rambler got no further than the first fence this time, with Derek Fox unseated on landing after the Lucinda Russell-trained runner had cleared the obstacle.

The horse carried on running loose with the field and fell at the next fence but was reported to have returned unscathed.

Russell said: “It was obviously disappointing what happened, but I was more worried when I saw him come down at the second. Thankfully he’s fine, no problems and the owners are just delighted that he has come home safe and sound.”