National set for Pitman: Racing

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The Independent Online
When the great portfolio of dodgy photographs is catalogued it may be that the Cottingley fairies and The Surgeon's image of the Loch Ness monster are joined in the album by the finish of the 1997 Irish Grand National.

To all who witnessed a traumatic struggle up Fairyhouse's rising straight yesterday it appeared that the first nose past the line belonged to the home side's Amble Speedy. When the Polaroid was peeled however the victor was announced as Jenny Pitman's Mudahim. A loose horse charging past the central combatants at the post in the opposite direction made detailed analysis of the closing stages even more difficult.

Mudahim's success etched another line into the record book of British racing's grand dame, as Pitman completed a full set of National victories following previous glory at Aintree, and in the Welsh, Scottish and Midlands versions.

The vibes had been mixed before flag-fall. Only five British-trained runners had been successful in the event's 127-year history, but Pitman went into the race having already relieved the Irish of one of their treasured baubles, the Ladbroke Hurdle, earlier in the year.

Mudahim went into bat with seven other British beasts, the largest contingent ever to cross the water for the race. The challenge was soon diminished when Sister Stephanie decided not to bother. Aardwolf then had a lie down after the second obstacle, though he did take a hand in the finish, travelling in the wrong direction.

There were other worrying signs for the travellers, who were reputed to require easy going to give of their best, as little puffs of dust appeared when hooves collided with the ground on landing side. This factor did for The Grey Monk, though the topweight still managed to slog his way round for third place. The grey at least will fight another day, which is not a sentiment that can be applied to Coq Hardi Affair and The Latvian Lark. Both gave their lives and made Noel Meade's Co Meath yard a less than joyous establishment last night.

At the finish though, it initially appeared that Arthur Moore and Francis Woods, successful last year with Feathered Gale, had won it again. Then it was announced that Jason Titley, who collected the Grand National for Weathercock House two years ago on Royal Athlete, had prevailed.

"If I had been beaten, missing out the third and second last [which were dolled off to protect stricken horses] would have been what scuttled us," Titley said. "He was pricking his ears and enjoying jumping but he began to look around him and we nearly lost it close home.

"He was jumping for fun but he wasn't doing much when we bypassed the second last or when he regained the lead about 100 yards out. I'm surprised and obviously delighted that the verdict has gone our way."

Pitman now has even more to chat about to Des at Liverpool at the end of this week. The Lambourn trainer is represented by Smith's Band and Nahthen Lad, who was supported with William Hill yesterday, in the big one on Saturday. There were 45 left after yesterday's acceptance stage, the most significant being the top weight, Master Oats, who will be left in at least until his trainer, Kim Bailey, walks the course on Thursday morning.

The notable riding arrangement was Charlie Swan's decision to play musical saddles, deserting Lo Stregone (who will now be ridden by Graham Bradley) in favour of Wylde Hide, who seems to have been backed by anyone with a punt in their pocket in recent days.

By Saturday and Liverpool, Salvo Giannini, who heads the partnership behind Mudahim, may have recovered. Salvo lives in Chepstow, next door to David Broome, and when his pride and joy took the Racing Post Chase earlier this year he celebrated locally at the Tarn House pub. He eventually hit the sack at 6am and did not retire in story-book fashion with a teddy. He took a pint of lager to bed with him.

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