PAT HEALY: This week Pat reflects on Noble Yeats’ win at Aintree and makes the case for Sam Waley-Cohen to be considered one of the greatest amateur jockeys we’ve ever seen.
The Grand National
It was yet another memorable meeting at Aintree with huge crowds on Friday and Saturday which was great to see, and the weather was a fantastic bonus. Of course, it was great to witness another Irish winner of the world’s greatest and most watched horse race, but sadly he wasn’t on my radar before the race. Emmet Mullins hatched a great plan with Noble Yeats, but on reflection a lot of praise should be sent Sam Waley-Cohen’s way. Now that he’s retired were we watching the best amateur jockey we’ve ever seen, and we never noticed? After winning the Grand National and looking at his record in more detail it really starts to stack up. To go alongside that National win he also has a Gold Cup to his name and two King Georges, not forgetting seven wins over the National fences. Is it because he’s English that we didn’t take notice over here? But now, after his win last weekend, I’m convinced he is one of the greatest amateur jockeys that’s ever walked, and he was there all along which we just didn’t notice. Shame on us in Ireland, because he has to be up there with Jamie Codd, Nina Carberry and John Thomas [McNamara].
Before the horses got to the start, I was on the track ready to photograph them going to post and Emmet [Mullins] was down on the course too, where he told me he thought his runner had a good chance. More importantly though, I have to say I’ve never met a more laid back and relaxed man in all my life racing. He had exactly the same way about him after the race in the winner’s enclosure too, just taking it all in and being grateful. He’s got a great ally and business partner in Paul Byrne, who has done great things in the past few years buying and selling horses on worldwide. The two of them obviously hatched up this plan for the National some time ago, and they deserve the recognition for it because before the race if you were to look at the card, he would have been the first horse to scratch out.
You have to feel for Ted Walsh with Any Second Now. There was a distance of some 20 lengths back to third place and if Noble Yeats wasn’t in the race, then we would be hailing one of the best National winners in recent memory to win by that distance. The first thing Ted did after the race was congratulate Robert Waley-Cohen and connections, which I photographed, but it just shows what a great sportsman he is in that moment of disappointment.
As for this weekend, I’m really looking forward to three fantastic days’ racing at Cork and Fairyhouse before the Irish National gets underway on Monday.