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Elliott on a high after General Principle smashes his Irish Grand National duck

 

By Michael Verney

With 17 runners between them as they engaged in a gripping trainers' championship battle, it was written in the stars that Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins would fight out the finish of the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse yesterday and they didn't disappoint.

Only eight finished - all 30 made it home in one piece - but you could have thrown a blanket over the first five with Elliott's General Priniciple (20/1) finding most in a head-bopper as JJ Slevin repelled the challenge of Danny Mullins on Isleofhopendreams (16/1) to secure a first win for the Meath trainer in Ireland's richest jumps race.

When the announcer of the photo finish bellowed No.18 over the tannoy, Elliott's fist pump only scratched the surface of showing his delight at finally landing the big one.

"I'm kind of revved up about it. I can't believe it. I was watching Folsom Blue coming up the home straight and I didn't know what I was cheering for at the last until I copped the other lad in the red cap after the last," a jubilant Elliott said.

"He's been very disappointing all year and I couldn't get a tune out of him. He wasn't one of our leading fancies in the race and it's unbelievable. Eddie (O'Leary) was telling me the other day that there's no point in running him.

"I just wanted to run everything we had in the race and thankfully he won and it's great. Fairyhouse is one of my local courses, my mother and father were here today and my sister so it's brilliant."

When asked if the winner was finished for the season, the Meath trainer's response showed that General Principle will never be forgotten regardless of what he does in the remainder of his career: "If he's finished for the rest of his life it doesn't matter, he's done us proud."

Having saddled 13 in the race, it's no wonder that Slevin's mount was a bit of an afterthought but the nine-year-old etched his place in history to land the €270,000 prize and become Gigginstown House Stud's fourth winner in the race.

For Wexford rider Slevin, it was an "unbelievable feeling".

Slevin knew his mount was travelling well but only felt he could win when he hit the finish line and after only joining the professional ranks 18 months ago, it was a dream true.

"I never went for him and saved a bit the whole way. That's the main thing in that kind of ground and over that trip. I never really went for him until we landed at the back of the last. He really tried for me," Slevin said.

"As a young lad you dream of riding in these races and to win it hasn't really sunk in yet."

It was a gripping contest with favourite Pairofbrowneyes (13/2) falling at the fifth, the well-backed Squouateur (10/1) brought down at the same fence and the ground didn't favour Pat Kelly's Mall Dini (8/1), pulled up with five to jump.

Elliott's Folsom Blue (11/1) - hampered at the last by the tiring Bellshill (12/1) which veered left and barely got over the final fence before rallying - was later awarded fourth behind Edward Cawley's Forever Gold (20/1), which ran a huge race in the hands of Adam Short, with the Mullins runner relegated to fifth.

That €10,000 swing in prize money was another feather in the cap of the 40-year-old on a day when the winner's cheque increased his chance of securing his maiden trainers' crown.

There was no happier man than Elliott among the 10,722 in attendance but his humility and modesty once again shone as he ended the day with 201 winners for the season so far.

Presented with a special memento by renowned cartoonist Darren Bird, Elliott said: "I'd forgotten until Eddie (O'Leary) rang me. To train 200 winners in a season is incredible, it's a credit to all the owners and the staff."

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