Burrows Saint gives Willie Mullins a maiden Irish Grand National win

Ruby Walsh steers home favourite as Mullins completes a 1-2-3 in Fairyhouse feature

Willie Mullins filled another glaring gap on his glittering CV when Burrows Saint and Ruby Walsh led home a famous 1-2-3 for the champion trainer in Easter Monday's Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

Just over a month after Al Boum Photo gave Mullins a first ever Cheltenham Gold Cup success, Burrows Saint justified 6-1 favouritism in style in Ireland's most valuable jumps race.

At the line Walsh’s third winner of the historic €500,000 contest had almost two lengths in hand of the 20-1 shot Isleofhopendreams who finished runner up for a second year in a row.

Acapella Bourgeois was third and only Snugsborough Benny prevented a total Mullins clean-sweep by finishing fourth, a place in front of Bellow Mome.


Such emphatic dominance brought to an end years of frustration in the race for a figure who has transformed the face of National Hunt racing in Ireland over the last decade.

Mullins’s legendary father, Paddy, won the Irish National four times, initially all of 52 years ago with Vulpine.

“It was the first big race won in Doninga (where Mullins Snr trained) and it’s a race I’ve always wanted to win,” the man of the moment said in front of an official 12,500 Easter Monday attendance. “It’s great to get another of these things ticked off!”

If Mullins’s reaction was light-hearted his great ally was happy to apply context to the achievement.

Walsh picked wrong in last month’s Gold Cup and it was Paul Townend who partnered Al Boum Photo to ‘Blue Riband’ glory. But with seven to choose from at Fairyhouse the record-breaking jockey got it right with aplomb.

“It’s a bit like Willie being the leading trainer at Cheltenham and not having won the Gold Cup. He’s been champion trainer here for so long, and won all these races, but not winning the Irish National would have been an omission,” said the rider who celebrates his 40th birthday in three weeks.

“I love working for Willie, Jackie and Patrick (Mullins.) I’m there since I was offered a job at 16 and I’m 39 now and we haven’t fallen out yet.

“He hands you the saddle and just leaves it to you. If you make an absolute cock-up he never says boo. You saw that last year with Paul (Townend) and Al Boum Photo at Punchestown and I’ve seen it all through my career.

“There isn’t a more loyal man to ride for., Whenever something goes wrong he is standing right behind you and that’s what a good boss should be for anybody,” Walsh added.

Punters put their faith in Walsh’s judgement and Burrows Saint started a well backed favourite to overcome his comparative inexperience in the 30 runner field.

“You need an improving horse to win this race and I thought he was the best prospect of that. When they have the experience they have too much weight and are too exposed. That’s the way I looked at it,” Walsh explained. “But you look like a gobshite if they fall!”

There never looked much chance of that as the novice travelled notably well through the race although Whisperinthebreeze briefly looked to have got away from the big field with a clear lead from seven out.

Burrows Saint however led the pack remorselessly closing in and at the third last fence the first four horses were all Mullins trained.

“I was hoping one of mine would stand up and get there !” joked Mullins. “Ruby was very keen on his horse. He’s a young horse that can only improve and he definitely could be Gold Cup class.”

He added: “I was a bit worried when Pairofbrowneyes fell early (fourth fence) and C’est Jersey followed him (sixth.) I was thinking things weren’t working out well.

“It’s a tremendous result. It’s been one of those years when we have done things that we haven’t done before. It’s tremendous for Ruby and for the owner Rich Ricci.”

The winning trainer, who saddled three winners in all on the day, praised the official ‘good to yielding’ ground conditions produced by Fairyhouse.

An average of 20mls of water was put over four miles of track in an extensive operation carried out up to 11.00 the previous night and which began again at 5.00 on Monday morning.

A dozen horses finished the National which saw four fallers including the fancied Any Second Now who exited at the eighth. All horses and riders were reported to be unscathed after the big race.

Mullins had a 1-2 in the concluding bumper as the 5-1 shot Golden Spread led home his shorter-priced stable companion Mt Leinster by just over a length.

Earlier Walsh did the steering on French Made in the Grade Two Juvenile Hurdle, holding off Gardens Of Babylon by half a length.

“I was hoping she might get placed. Her form in France showed she was always staying on and it looked like she wanted a further trip. We were hoping she’d stay on to be third or fourth but she stayed on to win,” Mullins said.

“There’s not a lot of her. She’s skin and bones but that’s the way she is. I’ve been trying to train her but not to train her,” he added.

The Irish National is just the latest evidence of Mullins’s capacity to work most things out in the end. It leaves the Queen Mother Champion Chase as the only major jump racing prize he has yet to win. Evidence suggests it might only be a matter of 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