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I Am Maximus a first Irish National winner for Townend

I Am Maximus ((right) beats Gevrey (left) I Am Maximus ((right) beats Gevrey (left)
© Photo Healy Racing

The 500,000 Euros BoyleSports Irish Grand National was full of thrills and spills as usual with only six of the 27 that set out completing the course and it was I Am Maximus (8/1) who stayed on best after the last to give Paul Townend a first win in the race.

Recently purchased by JP McManus after finishing fourth in a Grade 1 at Cheltenham, the Authorized gelding wasn't travelling and needed reminders early on but started to creep into contention on the final circuit.

The field had thinned out a lot by the time they turned in with three to jump and Gevrey (28/1) looked to have made a winning move when sweeping past always-prominent Defi Blue between the final two fences.

Townend's mount was all the while getting closer though, and the champion jockey was able to negotiate a clear passage between some wandering rivals on the approach to the last.

A good jump at that twenty-fourth and final obstacle gave I Am Maximus the impetus to overhaul Gevrey (a spare ride for Brian Hayes who replaced the injured Kevin Sexton) on the run-in. A length was the winning margin with the gallant Defi Bleu (28/1) a further length and a half away in third.

Gordon Elliott trains the second and third, while winning trainer Willie Mullins (landing this prize for the second time after Burrows Saint in 2019) also had the fourth home in Dolcita Panda Boy and Angels Dawn were the only others to get around in a gruelling contest.

It was a treble for Mullins and Townend after Asterion Forlonge and Easy Game and it was the trainer's eleventh winner of the three-day Fairyhouse festival.

Townend said: "It was looking unlikely for a long way. When Rich Ricci's horse (Royale Pagaille) fell in front of him, it actually opened his eyes for him. I just tried to get him back popping. He was too slow jumping down the inside. I wanted to keep horses outside of me but it cut me out of the race so I had to let him go left and bank on one at the last.

"You never write off one of Willie's but it was certainly a lot harder work than it normally is riding for him!

"This is a very special race. It's huge to win this. You need so much luck. I finished second here a few years back [on Away We Go in 2013] and my record besides that wasn't great. I thought Gaillard Du Mesnil was my best chance in it last year and he ran well to finish third. I'm very fortunate that this lad popped up and that it worked out in the end."

Assistant trainer David Casey added: “It was absolutely unbelievable. I don't have the words, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. We know how good a rider Paul is anyway, I didn't think he could better Galopin Des Champs from Cheltenham but I thought that was amazing.

“He wasn't travelling, he didn't seem to be enjoying it down the inside in the crowd. Paul just kept persevering, kept galvanising and kept saving and kept him jumping.

“He has his quirks and I thought it was an unbelievable ride.

“He does idle a little bit when he gets to the front and he does jump a little bit left. Paul was brilliant and the horse obviously had the ability to go and do it as well.

“Dolcita ran a cracker. I thought the step up in trip would help her, she's a very good mare and ran a stormer. Tenzing was running a good race until he knuckled over a little bit at the third last and lost his position, he might have been involved for the places as well.

“Willie will be absolutely delighted, especially the way all three ran, he'll be thrilled.”

Quotes from Gary Carson

About Mark Nunan
Mark has followed racing since he was a teenager and worked for many years as a broadcaster with the Irish version of Racecall. He joined the Press Association in 2019 and is also a contributor to the Racing Post. A native of Kildare, he now lives in Sligo.