Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 22 February 2018

Morris the man for the grandest stage

Teenage star calmly steers maiden chaser to famous Aintree success

Rule The World jumps the last fence with David Mullins on the way to victory in the Grand National
Rule The World jumps the last fence with David Mullins on the way to victory in the Grand National
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

After waiting nine years for a 26th Irish-trained Crabbie's Grand National victor, on a memorable day for the travelling party 33/1 shot Rule The World ended the drought in sodden Aintree ground.

From 13 runners, the raiders secured six of the first eight places. Gilgamboa's class carried him into fourth - the only horse in the first 13 home to lump 11st or more.

Goonyella and Ucello Conti benefitted from the torrential rain to be fifth and sixth, while Morning Assembly soared before tiring late.

Of all the vanquished horses, Vics Canvas' brave third was the most gallant. He genuflected at Becher's first time and Robbie Dunne performed a minor miracle to stay on, yet there he was at the Elbow, slugging it out in front.

At 13 years of age, it was an astounding effort from a 100/1 shot that had also run well to be fifth in similar conditions in the Becher Chase and - similar to the winner here - broke his duck over fences in the 2014 Cork Grand National.

His excellent Ratoath handler Dermot McLaughlin can take a bow.

In the end, though, the glory went to the Rule The World team, although it will have been a long journey home for Michael O'Leary's retained rider Bryan Cooper.

The Gigginstown Stud No 1 was superb on Don Cossack at Cheltenham and enjoyed another fine victory at Aintree on Apple's Jade, but he has now forfeited the rides on the Grand National winner and its Irish equivalent in the space of two weeks. That will hurt.

Davy Russell found the decision-making no less trying during his tenure in the hot-seat. O'Leary, of course, is talking about retiring Rule The World, but both Russell and Cooper might prefer to see First Lieutenant given his papers.


What a costly tease the Mouse Morris-trained 11-year-old has been. On five occasions, including four at Grade One level, loyalty to First Lieutenant has cost Gigginstown's first jockey success on another of O'Leary's charges.

The 2011 Drinmore, the 2013 and 2014 Champion Chases at Down Royal and the 2014 Irish Gold Cup were the Grade Ones in question.

Cooper was initially jocked up on Rule The World on Thursday morning, but he changed his mind. Then, the ground changed and, unfortunately for him, so too his destiny.

Cooper isn't the first to eschew a National winner and 19-year-old David Mullins (right) isn't the first to win it at the first attempt.

Mullins has made a big impact here over the past few years, and 12 months ago he also won the conditionals' race that he plundered on Ivan Grozny on Saturday.

He took his National break - after letting Vics Canvas and The Last Samuri punch each other's lights out until the Elbow - with no more fuss than when slaying Faugheen on Nichols Canyon in December.

Mullins is a serious talent, but, more than that, he is cut from the same cloth as his father Tom, a decent skin who happens to be very good at his job; the family trait of humility didn't miss him.

Due to a quirk in the conditional jockeys' championship, Mullins - 10th in the overall table on 38 wins - cannot vie for the title after losing his claim.

Highly regarded by his illustrious uncle Willie and O'Leary, Mullins is the first teenager to win the race since Naas-born Pat Buckley did so at 19 aboard Ayala in 1963.

He could probably do without growing any more, but he should have a long career at a high level ahead of him, as he isn't easily fazed.

In three outings under him, Rule The World has won the National, been second in an Irish National and third in a Kerry National to Morris' recent Fairyhouse victor Rogue Angel.

Although a maiden over fences prior to Saturday, Rule The World had run 13 times over them and been placed in eight of those.

Placed in Grade One hurdles and chases, he might have achieved a lot more but for suffering two pelvic fractures in his youth.

Fethard-based Morris received many plaudits for his stunning Fairyhouse victory with Rogue Angel, and he is deserving of them all over again now.

It is an incredible feat to bring Rule The World back from such serious injuries, and somehow he did so without any prolonged period off the track.

Before Cheltenham, I read an article that trashed the notion of Morris' renown for priming a horse for the big day. A lack of recent marquee winners was put forward to illustrate the point, but that is also to miss the point.

Morris rarely tends to have more than 30 horses for the track, and clearly he has patrons of considerable means. Nonetheless, as we've seen with horses like China Rock and Baily Green over the years, he has a knack of getting horses to run above themselves on the grandest of stages.

And when he has the ammunition, he delivers. Rule The World's fantastic triumph is further proof of that intangible ability to eke out career-high performances from horses on the days that they tackle defining assignments.

It is a refined quality from an enormously popular individual whose genteel and almost noble heritage hardly tie in with his unkempt image.

Morris is widely acknowledged as one of racing's good guys. He was one of O'Leary's first trainers and the man whose needle ensured the Ryanair supremo's addiction to the sport by saddling War Of Attrition to that famous 2006 Gold Cup coup.

Sadly, that apart, two of his finest moments have come less than a year after his son Tiffer (Christopher) died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning at the tender age of 30.

On Saturday, it was a touch melancholic to watch David Mullins and his dumbstruck little brother Charlie like rabbits in the headlights amidst the euphoria, as Morris and his other son Jamie were again visibly overwhelmed by the enormity of a second National success in as many weeks.

It was a moving juxtaposition of emotions that sport in its most visceral form has a penchant for demonstrating.

Long may the game touch and unite us in times of triumph and despair.

Clinical Mullins closes in on title

David Mullins' smooth win on Ivan Grozny (16/1) completed his dizzy 577/1 Aintree double and a 24.5/1 treble for Willie Mullins.

It was the champion trainer's sixth win in Liverpool, and, by the close of play, he had soared to a decisive £183,000 lead over Paul Nicholls in his quest for a historic win in the British championship.

Vautour's dramatic exit apart, Mullins was every bit as clinical as expected, with Yorkhill and Douvan's contrasting wins leaving Paul Townend the week's leading rider.

Fortune again deserted Ruby Walsh ahead of the Grand National, but there is a chance that he will be fit to ride in time for Punchestown.

The 10-time champion will be eager to get back, as his lead of 10 over Bryan Cooper might not be enough to get him over the line.

Moreover, Mullins will want him on his side as he vies to stay ahead of Nicholls over what could be a tense 13 days. The Closutton lorry could yet decamp on places like Perth, Ayr and Sandown.

It's hard to know what, if anything, he will do with Vautour. He has options at Sandown, plus the prospect of a Punchestown clash with Don Cossack and Cue Card. Racing fans would walk there on broken glass to see that happen.

Tweet of the weekend

James Griffin (@jaggriffin)

Best day of my racing life. To saddle a winner on Grand National day. #Awesome #Unreal #Maggio

The son and assistant of Oldtown handler Paddy Griffin after 50/1 outsider Maggio helped the Irish tally at Aintree to a final haul of nine, in the process aiding the Mullins title bid by consigning a Nicholls runner to second in a chase worth £34,000.

Numbers Game

1 Times that Thistlecrack has been beaten in seven starts since winning a first Grade One at Aintree last year. Colin Tizzard's indomitable staying hurdler's sole reversal in that time came at Punchestown, and he is expected to avenge that defeat to Killultagh Vic by joining Cue Card there later in the month.

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