Rule the World rivalling One Direction in the Mullingar popularity stakes
Published 10/04/2016 | 17:25
Rule The World was the toast of Mullingar in County Westmeath as the Crabbie's Grand National winner paraded through the streets on Sunday afternoon.
A crowd of well over 1,000 flocked to see the Mouse Morris-trained nine-year-old - who could have run his last race - following his performance under teenage rider David Mullins at Aintree.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding returned as the first Irish winner of the world's greatest steeplechase since Silver Birch in 2007. With most vantage points taken, gardai stopped the traffic as the star attraction arrived in a black horsebox preceded by a couple of Range Rovers, before making his way up and down the main street, then into the nearby park.
In a town that can boast One Direction's Niall Horan and fellow musician Bressie (Niall Breslin) as natives, as well as singer Joe Dolan, hugely popular in the 70s and 80s, many people did their best to get photographs and selfies with the new hero and the famous National trophy.
Catriona Quirke, aged 12, said: "We have Niall Horan and Bressie and now Rule The World is in Mullingar. It's the best town in Ireland!"
Her brother Rory added: "The winner of the biggest race in the world is coming and I want to see him."
Fellow resident Mick O'Brien, 72, said: "I've been backing horses since I was a boy, but I've never seen a real life National winner in the flesh. This is a great day for the town."
Morris, meanwhile, was still pinching himself the morning after what was an emotional success. Named to be a superstar, Rule The World has suffered his fair share of problems in recent years, breaking his pelvis on two occasions, but has been brilliantly nursed back to full health by his popular trainer.
He arrived on Merseyside a maiden over fences after 13 starts, but broke his duck in the grandest manner.
Morris said: "It (the crowd) is unbelievable. I'm humbled by it, to be honest. It hasn't sunk in properly yet. The horse is in great form this morning. You wouldn't believe it but you could run him again today. It's unbelievable."
It has been a traumatic 12 months for the County Tipperary handler following the tragic death of his son, Christopher, last summer.
Morris - who won the Irish Grand National with Rogue Angel on Easter Monday - was reduced to tears and lost for words in the immediate aftermath and admits he could not believe what he was seeing.
"Watching the race I thought we were going to be third and I was going to be very happy with that. It would have been a fantastic run," he said.
"From where I was watching it, I didn't really believe it until he passed the winning post. He's a horse I always thought an awful lot of until he had his injuries. He's a typical National horse - he's a big horse that jumps well and has a bit of class.
"The funny thing is he's actually a good ground horse. Because of his injuries, his rear end isn't as strong as it should be muscle-wise and I think the better the ground the better he is."
Owner Michael O'Leary hinted after the race Rule The World could be retired - and reiterated that decision could be made in the summer - but Morris is keen to enjoy the moment before considering future plans.
He said: "I'd say it's very unlikely he'll run again this year, anyway. We'll let the smoke clear and dust settle and we'll see where we are after that The horse won't be abused, that is for sure."
Morris was also keen to praise winning rider Mullins, adding: "David could have bottled it at the last and gone too soon, but he waited until the bend. He's probably an old brain on young shoulders.
"He was very cool, that's for sure - cooler than I was! He'd arrived before yesterday. He's one of the top conditional jockeys and has always stood out."
Speaking to Sky Sports News, Ryanair boss O'Leary, who attended with his four children and wife Anita, said of the retirement decision: "We'll see how he comes out of the race in the next couple of days, there isn't much left for him this season.
"Punchestown would obviously be the next outing, but we'll let Mouse decide in the next couple of weeks whether he runs in Punchestown or not.
"As I said yesterday, my only concern is the horse is now nine, he has suffered two pelvic fractures over the last three or four years and he has suffered a lot of injuries - I would be conscious now having had a Grand National winner not to do anything that would endanger him or threaten him or run the risk of pelvic injury.
"We'll sit down and think about it over the summer, if I had my way I'd like to retire him, but I think in this case we'll let Mouse decide what he wants to do and I know Mouse will make the right decision by the horse.
"If he wants to train him on next year, then we'll train on. If not, we'll retire him and mind him and look after him for the rest of his life in Gigginstown."
For his part, Mullins was still on cloud nine as he said: "I was confident enough in the horse and was just hoping for a bit of luck really. Thankfully everything went to plan.
"Coming across the Melling Road I got a shout from Davy Russell. I can't remember exactly what he said, but I smiled a bit to myself and was then annoyed with myself for smiling, as there were still some big green fences in front of me and I was thinking about it already. That was the first feeling I got it might happen, but it wasn't until after the line I realised I'd done it."
But not quite everyone was there for a glimpse of equine royalty - one quipped: "I know nothing about horses but I was thinking, with the crowd and all, Mick might be giving out some free Ryanair vouchers!"