Sunday 24 September 2017

Maguire has the makings of a champion

Ballabriggs and Jason Maguire soar over the final fence on Saturday
Ballabriggs and Jason Maguire soar over the final fence on Saturday
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

For the third time in four years, second was the first spot filled by an Irish-trained runner in the latest thrilling renewal of the Aintree Grand National.

Oscar Time, one of a handful of horses in the care of ex-jockey Martin Lynch at his Castletown-Geoghegan base in Westmeath, ran a brave race under his Gold Cup-winning amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen, but it wasn't to be.

As the market suggested, Oscar Time and The Midnight Club were the pick of the bunch, with Ruby Walsh's mount recovering from a mistake for sixth. In light of a result that confirmed many of the traditional trends associated with the great race, both horses can expect to return in 12 months' time with improved prospects.

Eight of the previous 10 winners had earlier experience of the course, which is about the only statistic that Ballabriggs didn't meet . He did, however, substantiate a new trend by carrying 11st to victory.

Such has been the handicapper's determination to compress the weights in recent years, you could nearly argue that Oscar Time and The Midnight Club weren't carrying enough lead to win this time. Ballabriggs was the third consecutive horse to lump 11st or more to glory, and the fourth in seven years. Oscar Time and The Midnight Club are almost guaranteed to run off marks of 150 or higher next year. Happy were the days when you could draw a line through anything above 11st in the National!

While it's worth highlighting some positives from an Irish perspective, Ballabriggs' success was a great result in its own right. Aside from continuing the McCain family's incredible association with the Liverpool spectacle, it also provided Jason Maguire with a deserved pinnacle to his ascent in recent seasons.

Deprived of the winning mount on Silver Birch in 2007 when he chose to ride Idle Talk for Don McCain instead, this was sweet retribution. Contrary to some reports yesterday, that decision was not from any profound loyalty to McCain.

Yet Maguire and McCain now have a formidable partnership -- the jockey is on course to finish third behind Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson in the riders' table for a second time. A year ago, he spoke of his ambition to vie for the title whenever McCoy steps aside, and this week did nothing to dispel the notion.

After the horrendous kicking he received in a fall on Thursday, he was back in the saddle 24 hours later, with strapping on his dislocated thumb and a stitched-up elbow. Then Peddlers Cross flopped in the Aintree Hurdle on Saturday, but the Meath-born rider -- who turns 31 on Wednesday -- put it behind him to deliver the performance of a potential champion.

Irish Independent

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