Irish showpiece gets heart of a nation racing
A nail-biting finish is one thing that the Irish Grand National rarely fails to provide. Richard Forristal recalls 10 of the best
Despite a relentless sorting process of 24 fences, three miles, five furlongs and many random incidents of chaos, such is the competitiveness of the Fairyhouse showpiece that it is almost part of the race's rich 140-year tradition to provide a thrilling head-bobber up the straight.
Twenty years ago, Adrian Maguire and Charlie Swan provided one of the all-time great National spectacles by serving up a cliffhanger on Omerta and Cahervillahow.
A vintage showdown that still lingers vividly in the memory, it was just the first of many superlative battles to have been witnessed on an Easter Monday in recent times.
Omerta triumphed by a short head after an endless struggle with Cahervillahow, in the process confirming the power-packed genius of Adrian Maguire, still the last amateur to win the race. Charlie Swan excelled on the runner-up, which, in a career of near misses, was thrown out of the No 1 spot in the Whitbread Gold Cup next time.
Maguire, though, displaying the sublime fearlessness that defined his prime, would not be denied on the Martin Pipe-trained horse that carried him to victory at Cheltenham a month previous. In third, a distance behind, was the top-weight Cool Ground, that season's Welsh National winner and Maguire's 1992 Gold Cup hero.
Sixth in 1992, Francis Flood's mare Ebony Jane prevailed by a length to confirm herself one of the best staying chasers of her sex. A gallant third 12 months later, this was her day, as Swan gained compensation for Cahervillahow's 1991 defeat.
While Swan was as cool as ever delivering his challenge three-out, he had to work hard to repel a renewed burst from Rust Never Sleeps. That one filled the same spot in another classic two years later, while back in third was Zeta's Lad. Three months earlier, Ebony Jane had been chinned by Zeta's Lad in the Thyestes Chase.
Rust Never Sleeps, second in a Powers Gold Cup for Austin Leahy in 1989 before filling the same spot in the National for Tommy Carberry in 1993, hit the post for a third time at the Easter Festival for Donie Hassett as Jamie Osborne produced a typically stylish display to score on Flashing Steel.
The John Mulhern-trained gelding remains the last horse to collect under 12st, with Feathered Gale, a runaway winner in 1996, 20-lengths back in third. The enduring image of the race, however, remains the slow motion capitulation of Rust Never Sleeps under Timmy O'Sullivan, the partnership having gone clear from the third-last before finally being reeled in by half a length.
Franny Woods and Arthur Moore, responsible for Feathered Gale in 1996, were denied back-to-back wins when Amble Speedy came from behind only to fail by the narrowest of margins as Mudahim held on to give Jason Titley his second Irish National success. Jenny Pitman's 11-year-old, an equally dour winner of the Racing Post Chase the previous month, was as game as they come.
He had raced close to the pace the whole way before Titley sent him on four-out, and they were briefly headed by the runner-up after the last, regaining the lead at the death. The Grey Monk, carrying 12st, was 11-lengths behind in third.
In an unforgettable clash of two future Aintree legends, the Carberry and Walsh clans were to the fore with Bobbyjo and Papillon. The latter finished fourth under Charlie Swan in 1997, but Ruby took over on his father Ted's charge in this thriller, failing by just a half a length to lump 12st to victory, having been hampered by an early faller.
In contrast to the trademark waiting tactics that he is now synonymous with, Walsh raced Papillon on the heels of the leaders, taking up the running a full five fences out. Carberry, bold as ever, crept through from the middle and led two-out on Bobbyjo to give his father Tommy a third win, following two as a jockey on Brown Lad.
On a rare May date away from Easter, this was a spectacle to be savoured for slightly different reasons, as Timmy Murphy produced a flawless performance on Davids Lad. Despite having shot up the ratings 46lbs through the season, the result never looked in doubt, with Murphy gradually cutting through the field to score by a length-and-a-half.
Commanche Court and Foxchapel King, first and second 12 months previously, filled the fifth and sixth spots this time, though it was a pretty ordinary renewal otherwise. Ordinary, that is, apart from Murphy's masterclass.
Timbera, a standing dish at Fairyhouse, atoned for a head defeat at Cheltenham 12 months earlier by edging home by the same margin from Knock Knock in what was a very middling National on paper.
Nonetheless, under an inspired Jim Culloty steer, Dessie Hughes' charge, a faller two-out when in contention in 2002, dug deep to collect, in the process ensuring yet another edge-of-your-seat finish to the big race.
An incident-packed event, with Granit D'Estruval all out to hold on from the novice Marcus Du Berlais. Ferdy Murphy's 10-year-old, which tipped up at the last when seeking to double up in the Scottish version at Ayr five days later, was given a tremendously positive ride by Brian Harding.
Never far from the pace, the Cork native made the best of his way home from five fences out, summoning an equally determined effort from a willing partner.
Again, the 2004 contest lacked real quality, but it made for great viewing for punters, as Arthur Moore's runner-up just failed to reel in the winner.
This soft-ground epic was not for the faint-hearted. A year before going on to Aintree glory, Numbersixvalverde won out in the end for Ruby Walsh, with the jockey's father Ted supplying the runner-up Jack High.
Neither horse shaped like potential winners, as between them they made serious errors at the sixth, fifth and fourth last fences. Both made late progress, though it was only after landing over the last that Martin Brassil's horse hinted that he might get there.
Jack High did himself no favours in a high-octane climax by drifting left across the track, as Walsh galvanised the winner, eventually scoring by three parts of a length. Just behind them in third was the 2004 runner-up Marcus Du Berlais.
Ferdy Murphy came close again with the perennial runner-up Nine De Sivola, but Tony McCoy excelled on Butler's Cabin to give JP McManus his second win.
The first horse to do the Cheltenham-Irish National double since Omerta following a win in the National Hunt Chase, Butler's Cabin was the beneficiary of a measured display from the County Antrim jockey.
Any one of nine had a live chance jumping the second-last, while four took the final fence in a line. However, McCoy -- who had pointedly saved his steed's energy throughout -- got the response he demanded on the run to the line and the rest was history.