Saturday 10 December 2016

Grand National: Maguire's Grand ecstasy

Ballabriggs writes another chapter in National's truly unique history, writes Ian McClean

Published 10/04/2011 | 05:00

The wires described Ballabriggs' Grand National victory yesterday as "an emotional winner". Is there any other type in the National? The uniqueness of the National is that it reaches the parts of humanity that other races -- or whole occasions -- can't reach.

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For those deeply connected -- even men of granite -- the sensation is often beyond words.

It matters little that owner Trevor Hemmings is wealthy enough to have purchased Blackpool Tower or the holiday camp operator Pontins who used to employ him -- winning the Aintree National has the power to render you almost speechless. I say 'almost' because the owner was one of the few amongst the connections who could find the words to describe the sensation, and at that it was to utter: "I'm stunned, to be honest, as nobody's got a right to that trophy."

Hemmings was at least at the advantage of having previous experience of winning the race with Hedgehunter back in 2005 to realise an ambition harboured ever since his boss Fred Pontin won the 1971 edition with Specify.

Jockey Jason Maguire appeared like a man in a daze having guided Ballabriggs over the 28 fences and four and a half miles of Aintree turf, repelling all raiders. Asked for his reaction, his response of "I haven't a clue" was one of refreshingly spontaneous honesty. It was more muted, but no less real than AP McCoy's outpouring last year (following countless unsuccessful attempts) through the tears in the immediate aftermath.

Back then, the champion jockey's thank-list ranged from Billy Rock back home (who started him) to his near three-year-old daughter Eve who he then hoped "will be proud of me when she grows up". You can be champion for 15 consecutive years but it takes winning a National, apparently, to finally make the world believe you're worth it.

That's how much it means and Jason Maguire, who nearly missed the ride following a fall on Thursday which required an X-ray at Fazakerley Hospital, was still struggling to come to terms with its immensity. The impact was all the greater considering he could have ridden 2004 winner Silver Birch but stayed loyal instead to the McCain-trained Cloudy Lane.

Characteristically, one of the first and warmest embraces for Jason in the ensuing madness came from Silver Birch's trainer Gordon Elliott.

There is no family name more synonymous with the National than McCain but Donald, heir to Ginger, who now holds the licence, was no less flummoxed by the enormity of the occasion.

Literally sprinting across from the in-field he first hugged and squeezed his dismounted jockey half-to-death before attending to his horse which was in need of water and oxygen after his herculean exertions on the track. Asked what it meant to him to win the race for the first time his reaction was crisp. "Mean to me? I don't even know what time it is!"

"Donald always felt that in Ballabriggs he had a National horse and I'm guessing that carries a bit more weight in the McCain yard than in plenty others. The plan started all the way back in January 2008 when Jason came in after finishing second in a novice chase at Catterick and said as much."

They say that success in life is often as much about what we choose not to do, as what we actually do, and this was affirmed afterwards in Ballabriggs' case by the evergreen Ginger who chimed: "The trainer opted to miss Cheltenham -- he did it by the book!"

The latest chapter in the McCain Aintree fairytale could so easily have been an equally enthralling story had runner-up Oscar Time been the one to prevail.

Trained amongst just 12 horses by Martin Lynch in Castletown Geoghegan in Westmeath, he was ridden to near-perfection by amateur Sam Waley-Cohen, who was bidding to become the first amateur in history to accomplish the Gold Cup-Grand National double.

Purchased last autumn by father Robert, his whole preparation had been geared with this sole target in mind. Robert has registered just three winners this year before yesterday -- but they were the Horse and Hound Hunters Chase, the King George and the Gold Cup. The National would have been some addition.

Chief among coincidences yesterday was that both Sam Waley-Cohen and Jason Maguire received identical instructions as they were mounting in parade's cauldron at 3.55 yesterday. "Don't take it up until the Elbow!" Jason Maguire didn't do it and Sam Waley-Cohen couldn't do it but I guess that's all part of Aintree's magic history now. A history that is hard to describe.

Sunday Indo Sport

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