Eight great Irish moments in the Grand National

From Matthew's win in 1847 to Tiger Roll's historic double

Thursday, April 07, 2022
Gordon Elliott and two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll, celebrating with owner Michael O'Leary after their 2019 success

Gordon Elliott and two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll, celebrating with owner Michael O'Leary after their 2019 success

Irish jockeys, trainers, owners and breeders are as much a part of the history of the Grand National as sweepstakes, Becher's Brook and the Canal Turn, writes James Toney.

Matthew was the first Irish-trained winner of the Grand National in 1847 when he saw off 26 rivals - the subject of a minor gamble after a woman in a mesmeric state had foreseen his victory.

Abd-El-Kader landed successive gambles for his Co Meath owner/trainer Joseph Osborne, becoming the first dual winner of the Grand National in 1850 and 1851 - and reportedly landing his master a £10,000 gamble.

There are few more colourful races than the Grand National - and, often, the colours are orange, green and white. 

Blackmore blazes a trail



Rachael Blackmore was fresh from becoming the first female leading jockey in the Cheltenham Festival's history when she arrived at Aintree in 2021 in search of more landmarks.

And though the stands were eerily empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Blackmore ensured the global audience were treated to a race to remember on board Minella Times.

Holding off stable mate - and 100/1 shot - Balko De Flos and Any Second Now approaching the elbow, Minella Times surged up the home straight as Blackmore became the first female jockey to land racing's most famous steeplechase - and delivered an iconic line in the aftermath.

"I don't feel male or female right now, I don't even feel human - it's unbelievable."

Tiger Roll defies his doubters to make history

Fates may have conspired against Tiger Roll's date with history but sometimes it pays to look back on what you've had instead of look forward to watch might have been.

Gordon Elliott's charge is installed in the pantheon of Grand National legend - the first horse since the legendary Red Rum in 1974 to win back-to-back races.

Owner Michael O'Leary never even though he'd make a chaser - describing the horse as 'a little rat of a thing ' - but how wrong he was.

“If he’d fell at the first I wouldn’t have been surprised," added jockey Davy Russell.

Despite his size – just under 16 hands - Tiger Roll has not only immortalised himself at Aintree but is a winner of three different races at the Cheltenham Festival.

And there is always next year too.

"There is every chance of him competing and he hasn't got that many miles on the clock, and we will be training him back for the Grand National again," said Elliott.

READ: Gordon Elliott stable staff Q&A: a behind the scenes insight into life at Cullentra

Papillon gives Ted and Ruby their greatest day

When you consider all their successes, Papillon was something special for giving the fabled Walsh family their greatest day in racing.

Trained by Ted and ridden by his son Ruby, he was a 33-1 shot in the days before the 2000 Grand National, only to see his price tumble to 10-1 by the off.

Papillon was owned by Betty Moran, who had to be persuaded to run her charge in the race by Walsh because she was so worried about his and Ruby's safety.

“Papillon gave me and all my family our greatest day in racing by winning the Grand National and I won’t forget him for that. Everything about it was special and everybody who should have been there was there to witness it," said Ted.

“He had speed and stamina and was a brilliant leaper – everybody who rode him always came in and said he was an absolutely magnificent jumper. He was a horse of a lifetime, the real deal.” 

Mullins lives the dream with Hedgehunter

Willie Mullins always thought that Hedgehunter would be the horse to give him his first success in the Grand National - though he made him wait. 

In 2004 the horse fell at the final fence when seemingly ready to strike but 12 months later he prevailed in style, with Ruby Walsh in the saddle.

He could have done the double in 2006 but was edged out by Numbersixvalverde, trained by Martin Brassil and ridden by Niall 'Slippers' Madden.

"That was some thrill," said Mullins. "It frightens the hell out of you as you watch but he's a proper horse and that was just brilliant. You watch this race growing up but you can never really dream of winning it."

Daryl dazzles in closest finish ever

Wexford's Daryl Jacob will forever be remembered for riding Neptune Collonges to the most dramatic win in Grand National history.

Trained by Paul Nicholls, Jacobs's driving determination proved decisive in the closest of photo finishes over Sunnyhillboy. Jockeys, trainers, viewers and spectators waited for one-and-a-half minutes to hear the judge's official announcement over the tannoy.

"You can't beat this, it's my greatest day," said an emotional Jacob. "I promised I would ride a National winner, it means the world now I have." 

McCoy finally achieves his dream

County Antrim's Tony McCoy rode his first winner aged 17 and stopped stop until he retired 22 years later.

For a long time it appeared the Grand National would be the only race missing from his resume. Often he'd ride the favourite but 14 attempts came and went without success. Even AP - the most ferocious competitor - started to admit it just might never happen.

However, all that changed with a famous win on Don't Push It - for trainer Jonjo O'Neill in the famous colours of JP McManus - in 2010.

"I am just practically speechless. This means the absolute world to him," said McCoy's wife Chanelle.

"It has been an emotional day and for a man who doesn't get too emotional, this is a hugely emotional end."

Vincent O'Brien's unprecedented treble

Only one trainer has ever won three consecutive Grand Nationals - the original Master of Ballydoyle, Vincent O'Brien.

Voted the greatest influence in horse racing history in a worldwide poll hosted by the Racing Post, his trained six horses to win the Derby and Nijinsky to the triple crown on the flat.

He was a champion trainer on the flat and over jumps and also shone at Aintree.

While often remembered for Cheltenham Festival star Cottage Rake, a three-time Gold Cup winner, he dominated the world's greatest steeplechase in the early fifties – Early Mist in 1953, Royal Tan in 1954, and Quare Times in 1955 all winning.

100-1 shot wins in heavy fog - but did he?

The Grand National was run on a Saturday for the first time in 1947 and 100/1 chance Caughoo - ridden by Eddie Dempsey for trainer Herbert McDowell, with owner John McDonnell buying the horse for just £50.

A huge field of 56 lined up in heavy fog and there were protestations that Dempsey - whose winning margin was a thumping 20 lengths - had taken a short cut.

I don't feel male or female right now, I don't even feel human 
- Rachael Blackmore after becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National