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  • Randox Grand National: I Am Maximus Reigns Supreme In Aintree Showpiece

Randox Grand National: I Am Maximus reigns supreme in Aintree showpiece

I Am Maximus was an emphatic winning favourite of the Randox Grand National, storming clear of his rivals to give the all-conquering Willie Mullins a second victory in the Aintree showpiece.

Successful with Hedgehunter 19 years ago, Mullins was responsible for eight of the 32 who headed to post in Liverpool, but I Am Maximus was well-touted to follow up last year’s success in the Irish Grand National.

An impressive tune-up in the Bobbyjo Chase saw punters latch onto the Grade One-winning eight-year-old and Paul Townend rode the 7-1 market leader with supreme confidence down the inner as I Am Maximus showed no sign of previous jumping frailties.

In a race with early drama when defending champion Corach Rambler unshipped Derek Fox at the very first fence, there were a plethora still in contention heading down to two out, where I Am Maximus was inching into contention.

However, the complexion of the race would change at the elbow where I Am Maximus scooted clear of the Rachael Blackmore-ridden Minella Indo and the staying-on Delta Work, who picked up second place in his third attempt at the famous race.

It was a first Grand National triumph for Townend, while owner JP McManus was striking at Aintree for the third time after Don’t Push It (2010) and Minella Times (2021).

Mullins said: “It was an excellent ride. I had said before the race that we didn’t know how good this horse was, today he showed that he’s better than he had been. I thought he still had a little bit from the handicapper after the Bobbyjo and he’s proved it today.

“Paul was excellent, he kidded him round the inside, he got chopped up a couple of times and probably didn’t jump as clean as he could, but he was looking for the gaps and when he eventually got it he was all right.

“I could see Paul’s body language and he was happy, so I was happy then. I don’t think I said anything until he got over the last and then I let go (and gave him a cheer).

“He’s a tremendous horse. He has his own way of doing things, he’s quirky and immature but he’s learning all the time. It’s extraordinary how we came to have him. Nicky Henderson had him before me, Michael Grech moved his horses to Ireland and Nicky said to me ‘make sure you get him’ and it was fine advice. Nicky could see the talent that he had and we just had to nurture it, so thanks to Nicky and also Henrietta Knight who organised all that.

“To win an Irish National and an English National is impressive.

“I think he could be a Gold Cup horse, but we don’t know how good he could be because he doesn’t do it at home. He’s quirky, but he has huge ability and until others get the better of him, we won’t know how good he is.”

First prize in the National is £500,000 – a sum which firmly puts Mullins in the driving seat for the British trainers’ title, with both Ladbrokes and Betfair making the Closutton handler an odds-on shot against Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls.

Mullins added: “Now we’ve won the National we’ll have to give it a good go, we are there with a chance so we might see you all in Sandown, Perth, Ayr – where is there!

“I’m buzzing here now at the moment and it’s huge. As far as I know our team is back in full order with no injuries or anything and I’m happy that we have a full compliment of horses and riders coming back in.”

A jubilant Townend said: “At halfway he was a bit careful with his jumping, but we just built his confidence back up again and then going over the last two I had the four horses in front of me that I wanted in front of me. I was hoping when I pulled him out that he’d pick up and go and he did.

“This is a special place, you grew up building Grand National fences built out of whatever you could get your hands on. It’s a dream to win it. You build a course and your ponies probably know when it’s National time as you’d have the green fences out! It’s just a race that captures the imagination.

“The feeling passing the line is up there with the best I’ve had, but it’s a different feeling. Grade Ones are extra special and tactical and in the Irish National and English National you need a bit of luck, the feeling winning this is unique.

“It’s a special feeling when they start picking up passing the elbow. You honestly don’t hear any of the noise from the crowd, at that stage you’re in full drive and you’re not thinking of anything other than getting to the lollipop stick (winning post) before something passes you.”

National glory for Townend comes after a Cheltenham Festival that included the Gold Cup with Galopin Des Champs, and Townend added: “I have to pinch myself all the time to be honest. It’s fairytale stuff.”

Paying tribute to his jockey and the National as a whole, Mullins said: “Paul is riding so well at the moment and that comes with confidence, you see that in all sports, Paul just sees things other jockeys won’t.

“It’s another National for JP, which is great, and a second National for us. When you win it for the first time it’s amazing, I was on cloud nine for the whole year. It’s the first race you always see as a child, it’s Aintree, the atmosphere, it’s everything about it, the spectacle, it’s just a special race to win.”

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