General Principle gifts Gordon Elliott a first Irish National

Trainer later became the first to record 200 winners in Ireland in a season at Fairyhouse

 

Gordon Elliott created history on Easter Monday when a first Boylesports Irish Grand National success with General Principle helped propel him past 200 winners for the season.

It’s the first time a trainer has ever reached a double century in Ireland and Fairyhouse’s big race result could also prove a major step towards Elliott landing the trainers’ championship for the first time when the season ends later this month.

General Principle belied 20-1 outsider status to emerge best in a gruelling war of attrition for Ireland’s richest jumps race.

But less than an hour later it was another Michael O’Leary-owned runner, Portnablagh, who had the honour of being Elliott’s 200th winner in the last race at Cork. And 20 minutes after that Getaway John won the Fairyhouse finale to be No. 201.

“It’s great to do it, unbelievable,” said Elliott. “I’m very lucky with all the horses I have, the staff, the owners: we’ll enjoy it!”

It’s General Principle’s name which is assured a place in the record books, however, after getting the best of a desperate finish with the Willie Mullins-trained Isleofhopeanddreams by a head. Another 20-1 shot, Forever Gold, filled third place.

Jockey JJ Slevin and trainer Gordon Elliott celebrate winning the Boylesports Irish Grand National with General Principle. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Jockey JJ Slevin and trainer Gordon Elliott celebrate winning the Boylesports Irish Grand National with General Principle. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

It was agonisingly close to a first Irish National for Mullins and despite a lucrative Graded hat-trick on the rest of the card, the big race winner’s €270,000 first prize saw the gap widen between Mullins and Elliott for the trainers championship.

Elliott’s odds for a first trainers championship at Punchestown later this month were immediately cut to 1-3.

There was even another reverse for Mullins as his fourth past the post, Bellshill, was disqualified to fifth behind Elliott’s Folsom Blue after causing interference at the final fence.  

Only eight of the 30 runners finished a race run in ultra-testing conditions. Five horses, including Mullins’s 13-2 favourite, Pairofbrowneyes, fell. Three were brought down and two horses unseated. More runners were pulled up than finished. All horses and jockeys were reported unscathed.

There was a sting in the tail for winning jockey Slevin who was handed a seven-day ban after the stewards deemed him to have used his whip with excessive force. The stewards also gave a three-day suspension to Danny Mullins, who was found to have used his whip on Isleofhopendreams with excessive frequency.

Most focus after the race was on locally based Elliott who threatens to end Mullins’s uninterrupted 10-year reign as champion trainer.

After beginning the day with a lead of over €450,000 on Mullins, he emerged with €295,000 gained in total from the National alone, a dividend that could prove decisive by the end of the season.

With such a big team of runners Elliott confessed: “There were that many coming to the last I didn’t know where to look. I was watching Folsom Blue as he was coming home strong but he got mowed out of it and was unlucky.

“He [General Principle] wasn’t one of my leading horses but it’s great to win. He ran very well in the race last year [fifth]. JJ gave him a great ride and it worked out. We’ve had a rough enough week – hitting the crossbar with a good few – and to win this is brilliant.

“But I’d really need to watch it again to have a better idea of what happened!”

He was hardly alone in that. The tone was set with two fallers at the first and by the time Pairofbrowneyes exited at the seventh, it was clear that grit would be the primary requirement needed for success in race which took over nine minutes to run.

Maybe it was no surprise then when Bellshill, who travelled like a class horse for much of the race, found his big weight taking a toll in the closing stages. He barely got over the final fence, interfering with Arkwrisht, who in turn collided with Folsom Blue.

“I’d have won or been beaten a short head,” the latter’s jockey Robbie Power said ruefully.

It was a rare hiccup, though, on a landmark day for Elliott which could yet wind up proving a landmark season.

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