Pineau De Re goes from Ulster glory to Grand National triumph
Pineau De Re, last year's Ulster Grand National winner at Downpatrick, provided jockey Leighton Aspell and trainer Dr Richard Newland with a remarkable success story by winning the first £1million Aintree Grand National.
Aspell (37) retired from the saddle in July 2007 before making a comeback in April 2009, while Newland – a qualified GP – has just 12 horses in training and runs his racing operation alongside large medical businesses.
Newland said: "This is a hobby for me, really, and I have no plans to change anything at the minute.
"For us to have one running in the National was a dream and to win it is unspeakable."
Aspell added: "I've been watching the National since I was a young boy. As much as you enjoy sharing everyone's success, you crave a bit too."
Double Seven proved the pick of the Irish runners by staying on honestly to be third under Ulster great AP McCoy, who won on Don't Push It in 2010.
The Dessie Hughes-trained Raz De Maree completed in more leisurely fashion in eighth, with Henry de Bromhead's Buckers Bridge and Willie Mullins' Vesper Bell and Prince De Beauchene also among the 18 to get round.
Grade One wins for Hughes' Ulster-owned Guitar Pete, Mullins' Boston Bob and Warne's Foxhunters' rout for Downpatrick trainer Brian Hamilton had got the three-day meeting off to a flying start.
Unfortunately, Mikey Fogarty's fantastic first season as a professional came to an abrupt halt when he suffered stable fractures to his T3 and T4 vertebrae in a fall from Bishopsfurze in Friday's Topham, paving the way for Katie Walsh to stretch her 100 per cent completion record in the National to three on Vesper Bell.
Pineau De Re's imperious 25/1 triumph was a stunning vindication of Aspell's decision to end his near two-year retirement in 2009, as is a career-best tally of 62 winners.
A native of Kilcullen in Co Kildare, 'Lash' is an immensely respected and popular pro.
He is a steady hand and a down-to-earth guy, something that the world was witness to on Saturday.
His understated reaction to his National success echoed that of Ryan Mania a year ago, neither even punching the air as they went by the post.
Despite having excelled on a horse that fell in the Becher Chase last December and made a few notable mistakes en route to glory, Aspell's calm modesty shone through. The victory constituted a culmination of years of diligent hard work and quiet self-belief that briefly wavered when he threw in the towel in 2007.
Pat Murphy, whose Supreme Glory he rode into second in the National 11 years ago, observed of his exile yesterday: "Obviously he didn't have the appetite for the game at the time and he made the right decision to go away from it for a while.
"I think it gave him a different perspective, things were maybe going a bit stale for him and he came back refreshed."
Just as we saw Pineau De Re continue a trend that highlights the benefit of experience by becoming the fifth successive National winner to be aged 10 or more, Aspell was followed home by four other riders in the 35 to 39 age bracket, with 40-year-old Paul Carberry – who won last month's Ulster National on Hidden Horizons – seventh on Monbeg Dude.
Pineau De Re was Dr Newland's first National runner. For a man who says he simply feeds his 12 horses and harrows the gallop before shooting off daily to run five healthcare firms, Newland is some operator, two more winners at Market Rasen taking his five-year total to 134.
He is renowned for improving other people's horses, many of which are bought out of Irish yards, as was Pineau De Re.
Indeed, the tale of Pineau De Re's origin is cruelly ironic, as it was Barry Connell who sold him on after Philip Fenton saddled him to win last year's Ulster National.
Connell is the sort of man who will have been quick to congratulate connections. Still, having watched Mossey Joe – another 11-year-old that cost £160,000 in January with the National in mind – tire into third in the Foxhunters, he must be ruing such a paltry return for his investments.
Our Conor, reputed to have cost Connell around €1million, and Minsk have both lost their lives recently, while Golantilla, Old Kilcash, Mount Benbulben, Double Irish and Inis Meain have thus far failed to varying degrees to justify hefty price tags. Then there is The Tullow Tank, which he opted to rough off when it emerged that Fenton was facing charges for possession of steroids. Connell is in this for the long haul so will surely get his rewards yet.
Despite being critical of the modifications that have reduced the Grand National to the sanitised event it is now, it is only fair to say that this year's race was exhilarating.
Ostensibly, I still believe that it was wrong to meddle with so many fundamental elements of such a glorious institution.
Becher's Brook is a pale imitation of its old formidable self and the soft core of the fences means they are now more of the brush variety, which inevitably encourages connections of horses that wouldn't previously have been considered for the race to have a go.
Shortening the run to the first fence has had mixed results, as evidenced by the scenario that prompted 39 of the 40 jockeys that rode in the National to refuse to co-operate with a stewards' inquiry into the events that led to the assistant starter Simon McNeill being knocked over before a further false start.
Discount the inquiry and revolt, and the race was a huge success.