PAT HEALY: In this week’s blog Pat reflects on all aspects of the Grand National, Davy Russell’s ‘second’ retirement and the Punchestown Festival which is now looming on the horizon …

Grand National

Irish horses ran blinders in the National, with Vanillier second, Gaillard Du Mesnil third and Noble Yeats in fourth. The winner, Corach Rambler, is Irish-bred from the Point-to-Point scene. He was a fantastic winner and must be a brilliant racehorse to win the Ultima and then follow up with a performance like that in the National. We must tip our hats to Lucinda Russell, Peter Scudamore, Derek Fox and of course Corach Rambler’s groom Lori Walsh. It was brilliant to see their success, very well deserved and we want to pass on our heartiest congratulations to all connections.

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Aintree Racecourse and police do magnificent job

The race was only delayed around 15 minutes. You’ve got to say what a magnificent job the Aintree Racecourse personnel alongside the Merseyside Police did to keep what, I’m sure, could have been a big protest to a minimum and to allow the National to run only a quarter of an hour late.

Is this the way it’s going to be for the next few years? Some people think it is. If it’s the way, maybe one thing that could be improved upon would be to move the start time back a bit to allow for a delay, whatever it’s going to be.

Being there, while we weren’t aware of what was happening out on the track, unless you were watching on television, everything was calm, and everybody was informed. The important thing is that the National was run, and it was run with a minimum of delay. You have to think of the logistics that went into that, so I’d say once again, what a performance from the Aintree staff and Merseyside Police.

Aintree has become a top-class festival

It was a fantastic three days. From an Irish point of view, we had plenty of winners – three on Thursday, three on Friday and two on Saturday.

The standard of racing was absolutely top-class. As we mentioned last week in the blog, Aintree has come on leaps and bounds. The prize money, the standard of horse and the standard of racing, it’s up there now with Cheltenham and Punchestown. Obviously, the gap of around four weeks between Cheltenham and Aintree is a huge help. Punchestown is probably on the wrong side of it. A couple of years ago horses might miss Aintree and come on to Punchestown, especially the big English challengers, but that’s not so much the case now.

It’s swings and roundabouts. Willie [Mullins] didn’t send many of his big guns because he has his eyes on Punchestown. If Willie sent the likes of El Fabiolo to take on Jonbon (pictured below), or Galopin Des Champs to run in the Bowl, then they weren’t going to make Punchestown. That’s great for Irish racing that they’re going to rock up at Punchestown next week. But I think if I was Aintree, I’d be thinking that we’ve got our place in the calendar now, four weeks after the Cheltenham Festival and that’s where we’re going to stay.

Davy Russell

I’m absolutely over the moon that Davy got out again on his own terms, in one piece and he signed off by riding two Grade 1 winners. Galvin in the National was obviously an anti-climax for him, as he would have loved to have gone around, got into contention and been a factor in the finish, but it wasn’t to be.

He’s always been a character, a marvellous jockey and competitor and brilliant company to be around. Davy’s now set himself up as a vendor for sales. He wheels and deals in young stock, so we’ll see lots of him, and the banter will always be good.

Where’s Me Jumper? A story

I must tell you a quick story about Davy from back in the day when he was an amateur jockey…

We drove up to Limavady Point-to-Point, which is in County Derry. It’s probably the Point-to-Point that’s furthest north. In the car that day was myself, Davy, Gordon Elliott and Simon McGonagle, who were all riding at the time.

There was a song out at the time by The Sultans Of Ping, ‘Where’s Me Jumper’ was its name. We set off from Slane in County Meath, I think Gordon was driving, and we had roughly a three-hour trip up to County Derry. The whole way up in the car, Davy had our heads wrecked, blasting out ‘Where’s Me Jumper’!

When we arrived in County Derry, we were sick of him. We got out of the car and were enjoying our day point-to-pointing, and then, lo and behold poor Davy went and took a heavy fall. He was thrown into the ambulance and carried off to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry City.

Now the journey home was going to be long enough, but this meant we had to go into Derry City to pick him up. We had no contact with him, so we drove into the hospital not knowing if he had a broken collar bone, an arm or what, but hoping that he was going to be okay to come back down the road with us – otherwise someone was going to have to come back the following day to pick him up!

We went into the A&E, we didn’t know where he was, and the three of us turned a corner and at the end of the corridor was Russell, sitting on a seat. Next thing, he looked to his right and saw us walking down the corridor. Up he jumped and started running at us, roaring at the top of his voice; ‘Dancing at the disco, bumper to bumper, wait a minute, where’s me jumper, where’s me jumper?!’

That’s Russell, he is always full of craic, and was laughing his head off. We threw a few thumps into him, for making us come into the hospital. No notice was taken by Davy, and of course he continued to wreck our heads with The Sultans Of Ping the whole way back to Slane!

We’d just like to say, congratulations on a magnificent career as a jockey, and we look forward to seeing plenty of Davy in his next line of work as a vendor.

Looking ahead to Punchestown

We’re looking forward to Punchestown next week, for five days of fantastic racing. There’s always a packed house, top-class racing and great craic to be had in Naas town. A pile of English people will be coming over, and it’s always great to have a few bottles around the town every evening, meeting and greeting, and having some craic with our English friends and neighbours across the water, as well as everyone from all points of direction in Ireland.

I hope the Punchestown committee get the weather, and we wish Conor O’Neill and all the team at Punchestown all the best for their magnificent festival.

Until next week.

THE STRIKER Sat: Premier League Preview
DAQMAN Thurs: Newmarket NAP
DAQSTATS Thurs: Newmarket NAP
2023 Ryder Cup preview
THE ULTRA Thurs: Serie A and La Liga Preview
THE ULTRA Fri: Bundesliga and La Liga Preview
PAT HEALY: Recapping a brilliant week in Listowel
WEEK AHEAD: It’s Ryder Cup week!
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