Randox Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
THE Grand National – always capable of creating its own special history – provided popular amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen with the perfect finale to a career which was largely geared towards Cheltenham and Aintree.
Noble Yeats was purchased from the Emmet Mullins yard, and like Oscar Time some years earlier, left with his Irish trainer to prepare for a tilt at Aintree’s greatest race. Oscar Time went close for Martin Lynch in 2011, but it was left to 50/1 chance Noble Yeats to provide that longed-for victory for both the jockey and his father Robert, who has shared the same dream since riding Sun Lion in the Cheltenham Foxhunter over four decades earlier.
Held up early and wide on the track, Noble Yeats made gradual progress before halfway, with Waley-Cohen making his way to the inside, and sticking to the inside to save ground, he tracked the strong-travelling Longhouse Poet until a good jump at the second last gained him the advantage.
He was threatened by Delta Work (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy) and Any Second Now (Ted Walsh/Mark Walsh), the latter getting to the front after the last, but Noble Yeats showed previously undiscovered stamina reserves to fight off the challenge of the 2021 third, and he stayed on strongly from the elbow to win by two and a quarter lengths, with the fading Delta Work left a further 20 lengths behind.
Santini (Polly Gundry/Nick Scholfield) jumped and travelled as well as any, but couldn’t pick up when the leaders pressed on between the last two, and did well to hold an honourable fourth.
The winner was busting various trends, which is always a pleasing event, becoming the first seven-year-old to triumph in the race since Bogskar in 1940, the first first-season chaser to score since Mr What in 1958, and providing the first win for an amateur rider since 1990.
Any Second Now didn’t endure the bad luck he had a year earlier, but a couple of errors early on the second circuit knocked him back in the field, and his rapid move to the front at the last may have cost him.
Delta Work made notable errors at the fourth and sixth (Becher’s) fences, and another at the first fence on the second circuit, so did well to move up ominously in the straight, but it’s no great surprise that he faded late in light of those mistakes.
Of the market leaders who failed to figure, Snow Leopardess simply failed to cope with the pace of the race having won the Becher in atrocious conditions in December, and was wisely pulled up when detached after a circuit.
Run Wild Fred was the biggest market mover on the day, threatening to go off favourite, and he still had a chance when getting tight for room and falling at the Canal Turn, and 2021 winner Minella Times was a casualty shortly after when jumping into the back of School Boy Hours at Valentine’s.
Sam Waley-Cohen’s record over the Grand National fences started before those fences were modified, and despite his Corinthian status, no modern jockey can match his record over the spruce, with seven wins and 18 places to show for just 45 rides, which is remarkable whichever way you view it. He had his first ride over the fences on his father’s 66/1 outsider Down, who completed the course to finish ninth behind Divet Hill.
He gained his first win on Katarino in the 2005 Foxhunters’, and won both that race and the Topham the following year, with Katarino (also runner-up in 2008) and Liberthine.
His other wins over the big fences have come aboard Brian Hamilton’s Warne in the 2014 Foxhunters’ Chase, Oscar Time in the Becher Chase the same year, and most recently when riding Rajdhani Express to win the 2015 Topham.
Sam had already voiced his intention to hang up his boots whatever the result in this year’s race, arguing that at 39, he had fulfilled all that he might have dreamed as an amateur, particularly in light of the time he must devote to his hugely successful dental business.
To have limped out unplaced would have left a memorable legacy, but winning the most coveted prize on what was publicly known as his swansong is the stuff of legend, even if he did pick up a redundant nine-day ban for overuse of the whip.
There were typically snide comments about how easy it is to win the National when ‘Daddy’ can buy the best horses, but the truth is that while Daddy might have a few million stashed away, Waley-Cohen junior has made plenty through his own business acumen to be able to buy his own horses; furthermore, few of the horses acquired to carry the chocolate and orange colours have cost the earth, with many being home-breds.
While the Waley-Cohens feelgood story was the focus of the immediate aftermath, it was clear that there were at least two serious injuries sustained in the race, and an announcement made by the racecourse communications that all horses had returned safely to the stables after the race was at best premature, and at worst disingenuous.
In fairness to ITV, anchor Ed Chamberlin noted that both Discorama and Éclair Surf were being assessed by vets, and that is the correct message to send out.
In my experience at Jockey Club racecourses, the communication on fatalities is consistently woolly, with the impression being that information is deliberately equivocal or even misleading when deaths have occurred. That may be a clever and cynical way of ensuring that bad news doesn’t hit the press until such times as it is cold, and therefore of less interest, but it’s not a practice which sits well with an organisation which promotes horse welfare.