Walsh's agony opens door for worthy victor
FATE determined halfway through Grand National day that the jockey with the best record in the race would take a back seat to the man who had arguably the worst.
Ruby Walsh, already the winner of two Aintree spectaculars and who has failed to complete the course only once in nine rides, was philosophical as he watched Tony McCoy, rival and friend, enjoy his finest moment at the Liverpool venue.
Walsh, who at 30 is five years younger than McCoy, knew when Celestial Halo dived at the second-last flight in the Dick Francis Aintree Hurdle some two hours before the National that this was not going to be his year.
As he hit the ground, Won In The Dark, which was following, trampled him, leaving him with a broken arm, which is thought to have been fractured in three places.
He knew immediately also that Saturday's Scottish National, the Punchestown Festival and Sandown Park's Bet365 Gold Cup Chase (the old Whitbread) were all ruled out.
Knowing Walsh (below), some time after his surgeon has formulated a strategy in Dublin today, he will be looking at the global racing calendar to find a suitable holiday location while his arm heals.
During past spells on the sidelines through injury, I have seen him at the Melbourne Cup, the Breeders' Cup and the Hong Kong International races. This time, my money would be on a jaunt to Singapore for their big meeting next month. Racing, not just riding, is Walsh's life.
It says much for the camaraderie of jump-jockeys that McCoy went to see his injured friend immediately after he left Aintree late on Saturday.
Barry Geraghty took over on Big Fella Thanks, which was seriously in contention four out, only to run out of steam. Sent off the 10/1 joint-favourite with McCoy's triumphant Don't Push It, he plugged on for fourth.
Despite running a great race, it continued champion trainer Paul Nicholls' frustrating lack of success in the big race. Over the past 18 years, Nicholls has saddled 48 runners for one second place, one third and one fourth. Possibly, he will take some encouragement from the way the persistence of Jonjo O'Neill eventually paid off.
Nina Carberry's dream of becoming the first woman jockey to win the Grand National never looked even remotely possible, although her mount, the grey Character Building, kept on for seventh of the 14 finishers, 37 lengths behind Don't Push It. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the last grey to win the National, Nicolaus Silver in 1961.
When this Grand National is examined in detail, it will become obvious that the race has evolved significantly in recent years. The first two home on Saturday were both in the 11 stone-plus bracket -- and the weight range from top to bottom was only 19lb.
It is a good horse's race, in which it is necessary to have class as well as staying power.
Special mention must be made of Black Apalachi's brave second and jockey Denis O'Regan's gracious comments in the aftermath. Trainer Dessie Hughes, rightly proud of his horse, which loves the big Aintree fences, is planning a fourth attempt at the National with the 11-year-old.
"It all depends on the handicapper. If he leaves him on the same mark, then we'll bring him back. If he gets more weight, then we'll look at cross-country races," he said.
"It is always disappointing finishing second, but seeing JP McManus win takes the sting out of defeat. I'm delighted for him. He's put so much into the game and thoroughly deserved it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)