Roses thunders to National glory for Katie Walsh and Sandra Hughes
Katie Walsh enhanced her status as one of the most accomplished lady riders in the history of the game with a beautifully-timed steer to secure a poignant Irish Grand National triumph for Sandra Hughes aboard Thunder And Roses.
Since taking over at Osborne Lodge Stables following her legendary father Dessie's death last November, the fledgling Curragh handler had already enjoyed two Grade One victories with Lieutenant Colonel.
However, yesterday's memorable Fairyhouse win for Hughes' seven-year-old in the most prestigious handicap in the land was an emotionally charged high that will take some topping. It might even have been written.
"Someone up above was helping us out today," Hughes beamed through teary eyes after watching Thunder And Roses pounce late for a resounding four-and-a-quarter-length victory. Her father had won the race 12 years earlier with Timbera, and he had a real knack for sourcing National horses.
"Dad always loved this race so to do it for him is wonderful. He was with us all the way. We are not the only people to go through it and you just have to carry on. The horses have to be looked after and we have a great team behind us keeping everything going."
Hughes is just the fourth female trainer to plunder the lion's share of the famous €275,000 handicap's spoils, emulating recent wins for Jenny Pitman and Dot Love with Mudahim (1997) and Liberty Counsel (2013), respectively. Mrs Freddie Blacker was the first to achieve the feat with Be Careful back in 1923.
Walsh, as ever, is in even more esteemed company. When her sister-in-law Nina Carberry won the race on Organisedconfusion in 2011, she was just the second female rider to do so following Ann Ferris' 1984 success on Bentom Boy.
The exalted trio are also the last three amateur riders to achieve glory in the marathon 145-year-old showpiece, and Walsh joined the exclusive group courtesy of an inspired effort to produce Thunder And Roses to lead for a first time over the final fence.
"I'm a very lucky girl," the popular 30-year-old said with characteristic modesty. "I've had great emotions and feelings over the years but that was magical. I've had some great days on horses like (Cheltenham Festival winners) Thousand Stars and Poker De Sivola, but this is right up there and I really appreciate what I have had.
"It has been a fantastic journey. An Irish National - it's Fairyhouse, it's local. It's a race that I've been lucky enough to ride in over the years but I never dreamed I'd win it."
Thunder And Roses, which returned a 20/1 SP, was one of six Gigginstown House Stud runners, and Walsh, who in September became the first female rider to win the Kerry National on Your Busy, got the call from Hughes due to her expertise in this sort of race.
The diminutive Kill native has the distinction of the best Grand National finish for any lady rider thanks to her memorable 2012 third on her father Ted's Seabass, and she could yet return to Aintree on Saturday to ride David Pipe's Broadway Buffalo.
In 2000, Walsh's father supplied her brother Ruby with the first of his two successes in the Irish Grand National on Commanche Court, so she was also maintaining a rich family tradition here.
There was carnage at the first fence when six horses crashed out, but Walsh avoided the melee and sat just off the early pace. The gambled-on Cantlow eventually finished sixth after briefly looking like he might get involved under AP McCoy. However, as the race unfolded in the straight, it was the maroon and white of Gigginstown rather than the green, white and gold of JP McManus that dominated.
Band Of Blood (50/1) still led over the second-last under Alan Crowe, closely pursued by the firm's David Mullins-ridden 20/1 shot Rule The World.
By then, Michael O'Leary looked sure to get his hands on the trophy for a second time, though few would have predicted that Thunder And Roses would be the horse to replicate Hear The Echo's 2008 victory.
Walsh galvanised Thunder And Roses approaching the final fence. In typically poised fashion, she coaxed a cat-like leap out of her mount there to poach a lead, after which point the outcome was never in doubt.
Rule The World plugged on for second, with Jonathan Burke denying Gigginstown a full-house by sweeping past Band Of Blood aboard Sizing Coal at odds of 40/1. Alderwood missed two-out before taking fifth at 66/1, while Willie Mullins' wait for a breakthrough National win will have to wait at least another year after Dogora and Perfect Gentleman were both pulled up.
"I was a little disappointed with him at Cheltenham but he came out of it fine so we took our chance," Hughes added of Thunder And Roses.
"We thought all year that this was the race for him. He stays and keeps going and he doesn't mind that ground, so we said we'd run. Earlier in the year we had mentioned the National because it's not unusual for novices to win it, so it's wonderful.
"Katie was absolutely fantastic on him. I thought she would suit him. She is a very, very good rider and a very good chase jockey. He jumped fantastic for her.
"You have to get the results, so I am grateful to Michael and Eddie O'Leary for allowing me to train him; and the same all the owners who have stuck with me. I feel very privileged to have these horses in my yard. "
Last year's Liam Lennon-trained Foxhunters hero Tammys Hill suffered a fatal leg injury when he blundered four-out, and Mark Enright departed with a suspected broken arm when The Job Is Right crashed at the first.
They were about the only downers on a glorious spring afternoon in Co Meath. "It's a great day for the girls," Hughes summed up as she dismounted the same podium from which she received her first Grade One prize after Lieutenant Colonel's Hatton's Grace coup in December.
It was nearly an even better day for Walsh, who later got collared on the line aboard Livelovelaugh in the bumper.
She will hardly have dwelt too much on that near-miss last night.
Attendance came in at 16,621, up 2pc on 2014. The bookmakers' turnover was up 11pc to €890,418, but the Tote aggregate was down 1pc to €392,047.