PAT HEALY: This week Pat Healy reflects on the Irish National and heaps praise on recently retired jockey Richard Johnson.
It might have been a surprise in terms of the odds, but Freewheelin Dylan’s win in the Irish National was a fantastic result. It was a real shame we were behind closed doors, but for Dermot ‘Red’ McLoughlin and all the connections it was fantastic. Dermot trains only a short distance away from Fairyhouse and the horse’s owner, Sheila Mangan, is his Head Girl, so it’s a fantastic story. Red had always maintained it was good ground the horse needed and he showed he was exactly right on Monday. It was also great for Ricky Doyle who is a real character in the weighing room and I’m sure all his fellow jockeys were made up for him. I’m told he’s one of the hardest workers around and it’s fantastic for the hard work to have paid off. I know I keep banging the drum, but Ricky’s victory was further evidence of the pony racing game in Ireland. He won the Dingle Derby in 2009 aboard a horse called Love Boat Captain and it once again shows how good a starting point pony racing is for these jockeys.
Personally I would have never backed the horse as on paper there were others who seemingly held stronger claims, but that’s the beauty of the game and why these Nationals are such special races. Despite the lack of crowds, it was fantastic to be there to photograph it and it will certainly live long in the memory.
Paul Townend and Rachael Blackmore
The other big thing that came out of Fairyhouse was the injury to Paul Townend who looks sure to miss Aintree and it looks touch and go if he’ll make Punchestown. He’s 10 winners clear of Rachael Blackmore at the moment and with not long left to go of the season, he’ll have been hoping to cement his position at Punchestown – a meeting Willie Mullins usually dominates at. That being said, Rachael still needs to virtually ride a winner a day to make it interesting and based on her Cheltenham form, who’s to say she won’t! It won’t be easy for her to get past Paul and she’ll need plenty of things to fall her way, but she’s shown she can go on a hot streak in the past. If Paul doesn’t win it, I think it’s fair to say he’d be thrilled to see Rachael be crowned Champion Jockey. It would be a huge worldwide story if a female jockey was crowned champion and would really put Irish racing on the map if she can complete the feat over the next month or so.
I’d just like to give a word to Richard Johnson. He’s been a superb jockey for a number of years and likewise he’s a really genuine person. I don’t know anyone who has a bad word to say about Dicky which shows how well he conducts himself both on and off the racecourse. I first met him in the 90s at Punchestown and every time I’ve met him since, he’s always had time to have a chat and a catchup. Every young jockey should look up to him because he’s a role model for all and I wish him a very happy retirement.
As always, the Grand National looks fiercely competitive but I do think it will go to an Irish winner. The two I like the look of are Burrows Saint and Any Second Now who both look tailor made for this. Cloth Cap is the rightful favourite and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he emerged victorious, though.
I’ve been lucky to be at Aintree a number of times and it’s a really special day. The Grand National is the world’s most famous race and although it will be a bit different this year, I have no doubt it will still be a fantastic day.