A first Irish Grand National win at Fairyhouse was long overdue for trainer Willie Mullins, and in 'Burrows Saint', the Carlow based handler finally gained success in our most prestigious jumps race.
Ruby Walsh, who turns 40 next month, was brilliant on the 6 year old novice, getting the horse into a rhythm and confidently delivering his steed to deny 'Isleofhopeanddreams' and 'Acapella Bourgeois', all trained by Mullins!
It was a 1-2-3 for Mullins after 21 years of trying to break his Irish National duck and it's fitting that he should now be getting his just desserts in the races which have eluded him. 'Al Boum Photo' was a maiden winner for Mullins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month, and in a space of weeks, he's knocking the big prizes off the board.
Mullins has trained 65 winners at Cheltenham, including the Champion Hurdle four times. He's been champion jumps trainer in Ireland 12 times. He's been the king of Punchestown and won the Galway Hurdle and Plate. He's won a Classic on the flat. He's coped with the loss of the Gigginstown owned horses in his yard. Just like Aidan O'Brien in the flat sphere, he's a master of his craft. When we have the conversation about sports personalities of the year, Mullins should be part of the conversation. He's the market leader.
For a long time, Ruby Walsh has been the top jockey around. He may not have ridden as many winners, nor had the iron will of Tony McCoy, but Walsh has always been a supreme stylist in the saddle. Yesterday was his third Irish Grand National success, after 'Commanche Court' in 2000 and 'Numbersixvalverde' in 2005. The former went on to be second in a Cheltenham Gold Cup, the latter won the Aintree Grand National 12 months later. 'Burrows Saint' has age, jumping ability and scope on his side to be an Aintree horse.
Walsh may have lacked the natural talent of someone like Paul Carberry, but the Kildare man is the complete package. His timing during a race is exquisite, his knowledge of his horse and those horses around him beyond compare, his quiet style effective. He is the most intelligent jockey in the game and his resilience is admirable. Walsh has suffered two broken legs and bruised vertebrae in recent times. He has been riding for Willie Mullins for 23 years and it's been a unique partnership.
23 years! What heroes. When you think of great duos; Ferguson and Keane; Harmon and Woods; Dundee and Ali; Schmidt and O'Driscoll, they often don't last long for one reason or another. Mullins and Walsh's legacy is remarkable and the good news for them and us is that it's not over yet.