Grand National Winner: Ballabriggs 2011
Ballabriggs at 14-1 gave the new generation of the McCain family victory in a race which will always be associated with their name when grinding out success in a bruising renewal of the John Smith’s Grand National.
Donald McCain, whose father trained Red Rum to win the race three times, successes which helped elevate the contest into a national institution, enjoyed his first victory in the world’s most famous jumps race since taking over the licence from his father in 2006.
But the race came not without its share of unwanted controversy, with two horses killed and the winning horse heading straight back to the racecourse stables after the race after showing signs of dehydration after the winning post.
Instead it was left to jockey Jason Maguire to take the cheers of the sell-out crowd as he walked back to the winner’s enclosure with Ballabriggs left to enjoy being splashed in buckets of cold water, which were thankfully in ready supply given the unseasonal high temperatures at the track.
Having taken up the lead at halfway, Maguire’s mount relished the challenge of the fences and produced some impressive jumps in front after one memorable bad blunder at Valentine’s Brook.
Going to the second-last fence, there were still five runners in with a clear chance, Niche Market doing his best to get past the leader but under maximum pressure.
It was only after the final fence that Irish National runner-up Oscar Time (14-1) emerged as the greatest danger to the winner and the pair set down to battle it out up the run-in. For one brief moment at the Elbow when Sam Waley-Cohen switched Oscar Time out to challenge, it looked as if he might reel in the leader, but Ballabriggs found more and scored by 2Â¼ lengths.
Don’t Push It (9-1) tried gallantly to become the first horse since Red Rum himself to win the race twice and kept on bravely under Tony McCoy for third place, while State of Play (28-1) came from a long way back to finish fourth and make the frame in the race for the fourth consecutive years.
A total of 19 horses completed the course. Favourite The Midnight Club finished sixth.
Maguire rode the race with his right hand heavily bandaged after a heavy fall on the opening day of the meeting.
“This is crazy,” said the jockey. “I’ve got to thank Donald, Mr Hemmings, my mother and father, everybody. It’s a dream come true. I tried to get in the first 10 early on so that if he did make a mistake we hadn’t as much ground to make up. He loved it and was jumping from fence to fence. He was attacking every one.
“I got him to the front to get him relaxed and put breathers into him and that helped him get the trip. There was a question mark about him getting the trip, but Donald has done a great job. I don’t know what I feel. I’m just overwhelmed.”
McCain, for whom Maguire rides as stable jockey, added: “We’ve always thought this might be an Aintree horse and you only need to see the way he’s taken to this place today. Good horses are easy to train. Everything has gone smoothly all year and he had a nice prep at Kelso last time.
“He’s just an absolute pleasure to deal with, I know he’s won a Grand National, but he is. I’ve been involved in Grand Nationals all my life and you come here and you realise what this place is all about. It’s hot out there and he had been up there all the way. He gives his everything, he doesn’t hold anything back. He is coming round fine now thankfully, he was just tired.”