I Am Maximus lands gamble for all-conquering Mullins in Grand National | Grand National

A Grand National that was in the ­balance until after the final fence was decided by an irresistible burst of finishing speed. I Am Maximus, who takes his name from a fictional gladiator, landed the decisive blow with half a furlong to run under an impeccable, ground-saving ride by Paul Townend.

The 7-1 joint-favourite did not hit the front until just past the Elbow, but finished to such effect that he was seven-and-a-half lengths clear of Delta Work at the line, with Minella Indo, a former Gold Cup winner ­himself, back in third spot.

The victory was Townend’s first in the race, and a second for Willie Mullins, I Am Maximus’s trainer, ­following Hedgehunter’s success, also at 7-1, back in 2005.

Mullins has become the dominant force in jump racing in the 19 years between his two Grand National wins, and the £500,000 first prize puts him in pole position to become the first Irish-based trainer to win the UK trainers’ championship since Vincent O’Brien in the 1950s.

This was the first National since several changes were made to the  course and conditions in an attempt to reduce the number of fallers. Remarkably, while four runners – including Corach Rambler, last year’s winner – unseated their riders, and seven more were pulled up by their jockeys when out of contention, 21 of the 32 starters completed the course and there were no fallers.

It did not diminish from the ­spectacle in any way. The result was a compelling race and the new, shortened run to the first meant the drama started even more swiftly than usual. Corach Rambler, who was attempting to emulate Red Rum and Tiger Roll by winning a second National, instead suffered the same embarrassment as Aldaniti, the 1981 winner, by departing at the first obstacle the following year.

Corach Rambler was the only ­runner to depart the race until the field reached the famous Chair fence in front of the stands, where two big fancies, Mahler Mission and Mr Incredible, unseated their riders. A handful more were pulled up as the field worked its way around the second circuit, but a large group of runners  were not only still ­standing, but in with a realistic chance of success as the field got to the business end of the race.

Gina Andrews, Britain’s most ­successful female amateur, was up with the pace and travelling well on Latenightpass with two to jump, while Rachael Blackmore, who rode the winner in front of empty stands in 2021, was going even better aboard Minella Indo, the Gold Cup winner that year.

Delta Work, whose trainer, Gordon Elliott, was hoping to equal the record of four National winners, was also in with a clear chance as eight horses cleared the final fence within a couple of lengths of each other.

Throughout the second circuit, though, Townend had been ­creeping ever closer on the inside, aboard a horse whose boundless stamina had been established by a win in the Irish Grand National last year.

He got a superb, corner-cutting leap from his partner at the second Canal Turn and a surge of speed after a minor mistake at the 28th showed I Am Maximus had plenty left in the  tank.

Even so, the turn of foot that ­carried him clear was something of a ­revelation. The days when a ­plodder could win even a pretty soft-ground Grand National are long gone, but I Am Maximus’s finish certainly had the air of a Gold Cup horse about it and the Cheltenham Festival’s feature race could well be a target next season.

“When he won the Bobbyjo [Chase in February], that showed me he was well up for winning at Aintree,” Mullins said. “It was just what he did to [last year’s National runner-up] Vanillier, he left him for dead.

“He’s a quirky horse and always has been. One day he’ll go out and jump left, another he’ll go out and jump right. You never know what he’s going to do, but he’s shown us how good he is and the Gold Cup next year is going to be his target. He has the class to win the Gold Cup, whereas Hedgehunter might not quite have had it.

“One or two of the fences, he just rubbed the top of them and I thought he might let Paul out over his ears. But Paul said he was only doing just enough to get over them and that’s probably what you want around Aintree.

skip past newsletter promotion

“It was worrying to me ­watching the horse, but watching Paul, I wasn’t worried, because of his body language.”

Townend, who was winning the race at the 13th attempt, said the success was particularly special given the degree to which luck plays a part in any Grand National. “It’s brilliant and unbelievable,” he said.

“It’s a unique race and what you grow up watching, and wanting to do. Grade Ones are ­tactical and you have to get it right but a lot is out of your control in a big ­handicap like that.

“He took on the first few really well, then made a mistake at the Chair and shuffled me back a little bit. But I was anxious not to rush him back in, and let him get his confidence back. Going back over the Melling Road, he came alive for me.

“It was a huge performance. There’s not too many that quicken up when they come to the Elbow and he hit the line strong.”

Townend could become a ­familiar sight on British tracks over the next fortnight as Mullins attempts to become the first Irish-based ­champion for 70 years, a few weeks after becoming the first to saddle 100 winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins is now odds-on at around 1-2 to take the British trainers’ title, with Dan Skelton, who would also be winning for the first time, second‑favourite at 9-4 and Paul Nicholls, the defending champion, now out to 7-1.

“I’d love to win the championship, it’s something different to do and my owners and staff want me to win it too,” Mullins said. “I’m getting as much fun out of having a go at it now as anyone.”

Quick Guide

How do I sign up for sport breaking news alerts?


  • Download the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhone or the Google Play store on Android by searching for ‘The Guardian’.
  • If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.
  • In the Guardian app, tap the Menu button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.
  • Turn on sport notifications.

Thank you for your feedback.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Back To Top