Barry Geraghty's Irish Grand National delight
Local boy Barry Geraghty returned to a rapturous Fairyhouse reception after ending his Irish Grand National hoodoo with a thrilling victory aboard JP McManus' heavily backed Shutthefrontdoor.
Last month at Cheltenham, it was to the 34-year-old Ratoath man that Jonjo O'Neill turned for More Of That when AP McCoy opted for At Fisher's Cross.
That decision resulted in a famous World Hurdle triumph, and the outcome was the same here as O'Neill, who saddled McManus' Butler's Cabin to win this event under McCoy in 2007, opted for him once more after the perennial champion was ruled out due to a whip ban he incurred at Aintree.
His booking last week duly prompted a surge in market support, and there was no let-up yesterday, as Shutthefrontdoor was backed from a morning show of 14/1 into 8/1 favouritism. Geraghty turned in yet another brilliantly composed shift to secure a glorious triumph in opportune circumstances.
During an illustrious career, this most prestigious of handicap chases had remained one of the few major events to elude him. His frustration came to an end in spectacular style here, as he took great pleasure in finally emulating his brother Ross, who won the race on The Bunny Boiler 12 years ago.
"It's brilliant," Geraghty beamed after steering home the first successful clear favourite since Omerta in 1991. "I've never even got close before.
"It's lovely to win the big local one and it has been a long time coming. Shutthefrontdoor gave me a great ride and battled well. He made mistakes at Cheltenham, but he learned from them.
"I thought turning in that I would win and then I was outpaced from the second-last, but going to the last I was getting going and I knew he was meeting it on a good stride a long way off."
McManus was delighted to bag the prize but spared a thought for McCoy.
"It's a great race to win. Full marks to Jonjo, Barry and all the team at Jackdaws. It's an exciting day," he said.
"But it's disappointing for AP that he's not here today as I'm sure he would have picked this horse. I wish both of them could have rode it. I feel sorry for AP that he's not here."
A fifth novice to plunder the Irish Grand National in 10 years, the seven-year-old son of Accordion had run a gallant race to be sixth under Nina Carberry in the four-miler at Prestbury Park last month.
Geraghty got him into a smooth rhythm on the heels of the leaders from the off.
When he finally went for him in the straight, Golden Wonder, which had assumed the lead approaching the third-last, refused to yield on the inside. Saoirse Dun then challenged on the outer to make it a lung-bursting three-way joust to the line, but Shutthefrontdoor wasn't to be denied.
He edged in front up the run-in and held on desperately by three-parts of a length from Golden Wonder, with Saoirse Dun a neck back in third and Jamsie Hall fourth.
"It's great to do it again," O'Neill gushed. "He is a very good horse but we needed Barry to get him home, he knew what he was like. He got him in a grand position and he jumped away. He needed a good jump at the last and he got it."
After scoring for just the second time in five starts over fences, Shutthefrontdoor was installed the 20/1 favourite by Boylesports to follow up in next year's Aintree Grand National.
Asked if he might be the right sort of horse for the race, O'Neill, who was born in Castletownroche in Co Cork, responded: "He might be a Gold Cup horse – you never know!"
He was only half-joking. O'Neill, remember, is the wizard who inexplicably transformed McManus' Welsh and Midlands National-winning plodder Synchronised into an unlikely Cotswolds hero.
Shutthefrontdoor probably has an equal chance of graduating from the ranks of a modest handicapper to the highest echelon. For now, though, connections were able to revel in yesterday's glorious sunshine and reflect on a job well done.
What turned out to be a relatively incident-free contest lost four of its intended starters before the off when Tammys Hill, The Westerner Boy, Rich Revival and Los Amigos were all scratched.
Nina Carberry, who had steered McManus' Gordon Elliott-trained debutant Free Expression (2/1 favourite) to a determined win in the previous Racing Post Bumper, then got the nod to partner Mullaghanoe River after her brother Paul was stood down for the day with bruised ribs after a fall earlier in the day.
Noel Meade's runner fell five-out, and Gallant Oscar was the only other one of the 26 starters to unseat its rider.