katie thunders to grand glory
AP McCOY'S final ride in the Irish Grand National dominated all the pre-race headlines but it was Sandra Hughes and Katie Walsh who ensured that the 2015 renewal of the BoyleSports Irish Grand National would forever be a historic one as the pair combined with the Gigginstown owned Thunder And Roses to record a four and three parts of a length triumph in the Easter Monday show-piece.
Hughes, having her first runner in the race since taking over at her late father, Dessie's, Osborne Lodge, late last year, was recording another memorable feat at Fairyhouse where she also enjoyed her first winner as a trainer, her first Grade One winner and now an Irish National winner to follow her father onto the roll of honour after he won it with Timbera in 2003.
Like Walsh, Hughes was becoming the third lady of her profession to win the Irish National following on from Jenny Pitman in 1997 and Dot Love in 2013, while Walsh joins Ann Ferris who rode Bentom Boy to win in 1984 and her sister-in-law Nina Carberry who won on Organisedconfusion in 2011.
An understandably emotional winning trainer said afterwards; "Someone above was helping us out. Dad always loved this race and to do it for him is wonderful."
She added: "Katie was fantastic on him and when the entries came out I thought she might suit him because she is a great rider over a fence and rarely does anything wrong and got him jumping perfectly."
The sponsors BoyleSports will certainly have went home happy with the starting prices of the first four home 20/1, 20/1, 40/1 and 50/1, while fifth place Alderwood was 66/1 and finished in front of AP McCoy's final ride in the race as Cantlow could only manage to finish sixth.
It was a second Irish Grand National victory for the winning owners and although Michael O'Leary was absent, his Gigginstown team were celebrating Thunder And Roses following on Hear The Echo's win and it was a 1-2-4 in the race for the leading owner with Sizing Coal in third for Jim Dreaper.
Hughes, flanked by her mother Eileen, as her father always was at the races, added; "He stays very well and I was a little disappointed with him at Cheltenham but he came out of it fine and we thought all year that this could be a race for him and I'd say that'll be it for the year."
Walsh, who was third on Seabass for her father in the Aintree Grand National a couple of seasons ago, has no booked ride as of yet in Saturday's renewal although that could well change in the coming days as final plans are firmed up.
Reflecting on how the race panned out for her she said: "He jumped fairly good, to be fair to him. Maybe at the ditch he wasn't so good but, other than that, he was excellent.
"He got into his own rhythm and it all just happened for him. It clicked, he loved the ground, and he produced it all right on the day.
"I didn't think I was going to win going to the last, but he absolutely winged it and the other two stopped - I don't think he picked up so much as just kept going!"
Walsh nearly capped off the day by adding the cherry to the icing when finishing second in the bumper on Livelovelaugh for Willie Mullins but was just denied by Tony Martin's Anibale Fly who was bringing up a treble for the trainer under a cool ride from Steven Clements.
Martin, who enjoyed a winner at the meeting on Sunday as well, saddled Dedigout to win the Keelings Irish Strawberry's Hurdle before I Shot The Sheriff continued the brilliant run of form of Paul Townend when bolting up in the 2m6f handicap hurdle.
The battle between Townend and Ruby Walsh to be crowned champion jockey when the season ends at Punchestown next month, is set to be an intriguing one as Townend won the opening juvenile hurdle on Willie Mullins' apparent second string Buiseness Sivola who instigated a treble for the champion trainer but Walsh was aboard the other two as Sempre Medici won the Grade Two novice hurdle and Vroum Vroum Mag maintained her unbeaten record in the Grade Three Mares Chase.
A crowd of 16,621 were in attendance at the sun kissed track and all roads lead back to Fairyhouse this evening where AP McCoy is likely to have his final ever rides in Ireland.
Boylesports irish grand national