Willie Mullins broke his duck in the Irish Grand National in spectacular style, saddling the first three horses home in the Easter Monday race, victory going to the well-backed 6-1 favourite Burrows Saint. The next mission will be at Aintree a year from now, when he will try to prevent Tiger Roll from winning a third Grand National.
That much was signalled by Ruby Walsh mere moments after dismounting from his third winner of the Fairyhouse contest. “I’d say now we’ll run him away over hurdles and have a go at Tiger Roll,” the jockey said, grinning broadly. It seemed an obvious rebuff to recent speculation that the 39-year-old Walsh was minded to retire at the end of this season; at the very least, Burrows Saint has given him a powerful incentive to go on for another year.
Mullins laughed when told of his jockey’s impertinence in mapping out the next year’s campaign for the horse. But he agreed: “He looks a typical Aintree horse, doesn’t he? He lopes around and jumps, so we’ll probably try and set that up.”
Paddy Power were first to give a quote about Burrows Saint for next April’s Grand National, offering 33-1. That lasted only minutes and 20-1 was soon the biggest price available.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mullins said, savouring the fact he had finally won a race in which his record had been 0/34. While he has reliably been the champion jumps trainer in Ireland in recent years, the National has not been nearly as kind to him as it was to his father, Paddy, who won it with four different horses between 1967 and 1981.
“It was a race I always wanted to win because it was probably the first big race we won at home in Doninga,” Mullins said, referring to his father’s stable in County Kilkenny. “It’s a race that has a bit of resonance in our house.”
While Walsh did an excellent job of guiding Burrows Saint through the faller-strewn marathon, the jockey revealed he had made a contribution at a far earlier stage. “After he won at Gowran, we were doing the Irish National entries and Willie wasn’t around, so we just stuck him in, hoping he might win a three-mile chase and then run here. Look, you need an improving novice to win this race.”
Asked when he had first seen Burrows Saint as a potential National horse, Walsh replied: “When I won a maiden hurdle on him at Punchestown [in 2017]. I broke my leg about 20 minutes later but I liked him that day.”
The way was smoothed for Burrows Saint by significant early departures. Measureofmydreams fell at the first and the field had not got much further before the Mullins-trained pair C’est Jersey and Pairofbrowneyes had also exited the race. Any Second Now was another fancied runner whose jumping let him down on the first circuit.
With a mile to go, Whisperinthebreeze powered his way clear of the remaining runners, a worrying situation for Walsh, who remembered being unable to reel in the grey in a previous race at Leopardstown. “I know it was a mile further but I was still thinking, I can’t give him that much rope. So I had to go after him a little bit.”
When Whisperinthebreeze faded from the fourth-last, Walsh found himself in front far earlier than planned. It gave the winner’s stablemates, Isleofhopendreams and Acapella Bourgeois, every chance to rally and make a final challenge but the six-year-old sustained his effort to the line.
“It shows what potential he must have,” Mullins said. Walsh, meanwhile, enthused about the horse’s Aintree credentials. “He’s French in the way he jumps, he’s accurate, he’s low. Yeah, he’d be my idea for that race.”