Fairyhouse fairy tale: Katie Walsh steals AP McCoy’s thunder

Katie Walsh ensured it was a gloriously good day for the ladies at this Irish Grand National

Easter Monday. Fairyhouse. Sun shining. Irish Grand National. Tony McCoy's last Irish national. The script was written – but it seems no one told Katie Walsh.

The crowds were building hours before the big race and there was a buzz of excitement that you can only get at a racecourse. But was it all about the McCoy factor as the 20-times champion jockey was riding his last festival on Irish soil?

“For sure, he sets the spark,” says Sue Conlon from Newry. “But I’d be here anyway, we come racing most years,” she says, pointing to her teenage son who has wandered away to take a selfie with a turkey named Hector that is strutting around under the main stand.

Not too far away, the early attraction of the day was the judging of the most stylish lady. Outside the tent a crowd had gathered, some lining up to register, others peering in at judge Vogue Williams and the contenders. Williams, a model and TV personality, was dressed pale blue: an Umit Kutluk feathered skirt, Lucy Nagle jumper and a hat made by fellow judge Jennifer Wrynne.


For Irish milliner Wrynne, who was named best dressed lady at the Cheltenham Festival, it was her first time judging the event.

“It’s a hard job,” she said. “There are so many amazing hats, but when you looked for the whole package, we could see the girls who fitted the ‘elegantly Irish’ theme.”

Williams agreed. “Well, one in particular stood out for me. I saw her across the stand and she just caught your eye.”

A few moments later, Williams was photo-bombing Taoiseach Enda Kenny as he arrived with wife Fionnuala. Kenny, in racing mood, laughed and donned a pair of shades for a photograph. “It’s all about the Grand National today,” he said, declining to comment on the Gerry Adams CBS interview or the economy.

Around the track, many younger race-goers wore the JP McManus colours that are synonymous with jockey Tony McCoy. McCoy has confirmed he is to retire at the end of the season, possibly after the weekend’s UK National and, despite the ground conditions not suiting his mount Cantlow, the horse was backed in to 12-1 before the off.

Among the crowd of 16,621, Ireland and Leinster rugby centre and out-half Ian Madigan was enjoying the action. “I love going to the races. I used to go with my granddad a lot when I was a kid, after Christmas. A lot of the guys on the team, like Fergus McFadden and Dominic Ryan are big into it and it’s nice to come down and switch off for the day.”

Though tempted to get into the racing game, he hasn’t taken the leap. “I was down with Willie Mullins’s operation . . . he hasn’t twisted my arm yet.”

Before the big race, the limelight was on Ciara Murphy (28) from Dunboyne, who won the most stylish lady award. The garda, who is based in Store Street, wore a white Miss Selfridge embellished top, Monsoon jacket, a borrowed Fiji skirt and a Fiona Rafter hat.

Rookies’ guide

“I only got in to this for a friend who was writing a blog about the ultimate rookies’ guide to Ladies’ Day,” she said. “It’s my third time, I was placed at Leopardstown at Christmas, but this is brilliant. It is local so everyone is here, except my husband, he’s working.”

And then it was time for the National. The crowd buzzed with banter about McCoy ending his career on Irish soil in a Fairyhouse Fairytale. But in true Grand National style, there was an upset at the first where four fell.

McCoy wasn’t one of them but it was not to be his day as Katie Walsh expertly navigated 20-1 shot Thunder and Roses around the course to a thrilling victory. It was a one, two for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud and an emotional win for trainer Sandra Hughes. Following the death of her father, trainer Dessie Hughes, in November, Hughes took over the training licence. He had trained Timbera to win the 2003 Irish Grand National.

Walsh became the third female winner of the race in its history. Anne Ferris rode to victory in 1984 and, more recently, Nina Carberry took the honours in 2011. “This is absolutely class,” said the jockey, looking at packed stands of applauding fans. “I’ve had some fantastic days, but this is an Irish National. It’s great for women in racing,” she said. “It’s a day for the girls,” concluded Hughes. And it certainly was.

Leonie Corcoran

Leonie Corcoran

Leonie Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times