JP McManus opts for Paul Townend to ride I Am Maximus in Grand National

Champion jockey aiming to pull off jump racing’s unofficial ‘Triple Crown’ in single season

Paul Townend will be reunited with I Am Maximus in Saturday’s Randox Aintree Grand National, as he targets a first win in the world’s most famous steeplechase as well as a rare big-race hat-trick.

Ireland’s champion jockey landed both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup at last month’s Cheltenham festival, so victory on I Am Maximus would complete the unofficial ‘Triple Crown’ of jump racing’s most coveted prizes in a single season.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead pulled off that feat in 2021, but it would be a singular accomplishment for a rider.

Townend landed last year’s Irish Grand National on I Am Maximus, but Jody McGarvey has ridden the horse in his four starts since, including winning the Grade One Drinmore Chase back at Fairyhouse in December. McGarvey also did the steering when I Am Maximus scored in February’s Bobboyjo Chase.


However, the JP McManus team have opted to side with Townend this weekend, while their number one rider, Mark Walsh, will be on board the Cheltenham Mares Chase winner, Limerick Lace, in Saturday’s highlight in Liverpool.

“Mark has never ridden I Am Maximus and the fact Paul Townend had won the (Irish) National and knows him means he rides,” McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry said on Tuesday. “Jody has been lucky on him too, but he will be on Janidil. Meetingofthewaters will be ridden by Danny Mullins.”

Capodanno is also part of a notably strong McManus team in the National as the owner bids to record a third win in the race. The De Bromhead-trained Minella Times pulled off the feat in 2021, while Don’t Push It recorded a famous success in 2010 under Tony McCoy.

I Am Maximus was closing in on the favourite Corach Rambler in National betting on Tuesday. Last year’s winner eased slightly to 5-1 with some firms. I Am Maximus is a general 7-1 next best in most lists, while Meetingofthewaters is 9-1 alongside last year’s runner up Vanillier.

Before that, McManus’s principal interest when the Aintree festival starts on Thursday will be how his hugely promising novice Corbetts Cross fares against senior opposition for the first time in the William Hill Bowl.

Last month’s Gold Cup runner Gerri Colombe represents Gordon Elliott against Shishkin who will defend the Bowl title he won a year ago. Shishkin was forced to miss Cheltenham when illness swept through Nicky Henderson’s yard.

Corbetts Cross’s inclusion in the seven-strong field was a surprise. At seven he will be the youngest in the race and it will be just his sixth start over fences having scored impressively in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last month.

It is the latest ‘left field’ move by trainer Emmet Mullins who will saddle the 2022 winner Noble Yeats in Saturday’s National and he could wind up topweight if, as expected, Conflated is switched to Friday’s Melling Chase.

“We had the option of the Aintree Bowl and the Grand National, but with the ground going the way it is we are going to run in the Melling Chase on Friday instead,” Conflated’s trainer Gordon Elliott reported.

Leopardstown’s role in defying the elements and keeping the domestic racing programme afloat recently will depend on the Co Dublin course passing a 7.30 inspection on Wednesday morning. Parts of the course were unfit for racing on Tuesday.

If it gets a green light, then conditions should be no problem to last year’s Gladness winner Goldana in the featured Heritage Stakes.

The opening fillies maiden has been won by subsequent top-flight winners Savethelastdance and Above The Curve in the last two years. Found’s sister Rubies Are Red can prove the solution this time.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column