Vintage Grand National enough to make Willie Mullins lose his cool

<span>Trainer Willie Mullins (left) and jockey Paul Townend with the winners trophy after victory with I Am Maximus in the Grand National.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer</span>
Trainer Willie Mullins (left) and jockey Paul Townend with the winners trophy after victory with I Am Maximus in the Grand National.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

lA gentlemanly nod of the head. An appreciative tip of the cap. That is the way Willie Mullins likes to celebrate his major triumphs. Such is his preternatural calmness, you half‑suspect the arrival of the Four Horseman of Apocalypse would be greeted with a simple shrug of the shoulders. Yet on a raucous afternoon, the 67-year‑old Irishman was bellowing every bit as loudly as anyone else in the 70,000 crowd.

It came as the 7-1 joint favourite, I Am Maximus, soared over the last fence of a vintage Grand National, and his jockey Paul Townend pressed down hard on the accelerator.

Related: I Am Maximus lands gamble for all-conquering Mullins in Grand National

“I don’t think I said anything until over the last but then I let go,” Mullins said. “I could see Paul getting the gap, getting out, and I just started to roar and I just couldn’t stop.

“Paul was super on him, because the horse wasn’t giving him a lot of help all the way round. But he had supreme confidence and you could see him biding his time and  then he delivered. I am buzzing.”

So was everyone else after what many observers, including AP McCoy, quickly hailed as a vintage National, given that the best part of a dozen horses were still in contention at the final obstacle.

They included a string of seriously good ones too – including Delta Work, a multiple Cheltenham Festival Winner, who took second, and Minello Indo, a former Gold Cup winner, who returned to near his best in coming third. But I Am Maximus had so much left in the tank he was able to surge from fourth to first after clearing the last before winning by seven and a half lengths.

Mullins has now won the Champion Hurdle, the Gold Cup and the Grand National in 2024. For good measure, he has the lead in the British trainers’ championship.

“I would have thought they were mad if people had suggested we could have won them all,” he said.

“You might have had the favourites for all three but you never believe you can do it. We are gobsmacked at the talent we have at home. Thankfully, we are getting the results too.

“I would love to win the trainers’ title. Vincent O’Brien did it in the 50s. It is something different to do. And my owners want me to win it too.”

This is quickly turning into Mullins’s annus mirabilis, so it was surely appropriate he did so with a horse with a Latin name, which translates into Greatest – a sobriquet that has long applied to Mullins.

But this victory was extra special given it was his second in this race, following Hedgehunter in 2005. Mullins suggested I Am Maximus – like Hedgehunter – would be targeted at the Gold Cup at next year’s Cheltenham  Festival.

“He is just a galloping machine but I think he has the class to win a Gold Cup,” he said. On this evidence it is hard to argue.

Aintree has neutered its most devilish traps and trappings down the years in an attempt to address animal welfare concerns, but 30 fences over four and a quarter miles remains a test of reins and lungs. While I Am Maximus brushed a few fences, and made a mistake at the Chair fence in front of the stands, he still won by a street.

Related: Grand National 2024: I Am Maximus wins thrilling race at Aintree – as it happened

Thankfully for the organisers, there was no repeat of last year’s disruption by animal rights groups, which delayed the race by 15 minutes and led to 118 arrests. Not that they were taking any chances. Security guards were positioned every few metres along the course, earpieces attached and eyes locked on any potential disruption.

This has been a National Hunt season where people have talked about Irish dominance. Dominance? It has been more like a rout. The Irish had the first four home here. But no one has been as dominant as Mullins, who rightly enjoyed the champagne given to him as he chatted to the media.

“Planning to celebrate tonight?” he was asked. “I need a bit of lubrication to get this voice back,” he replied with a smile. This time Mullins the Master didn’t have to shout.