At the business end of a Grand National of rare quality, Timmy Murphy repelled all challengers and punched the air with a venom that said more than words could. If ever there was a moment when his redemption was complete this was it; as he steered the David Pipe-trained Comply Or Die to a heavily backed triumph he declared: "The punters aren't as happy as I am!"
Five years ago, many contemplated whether the Irishman's talent would ever be truly realised as he was assailed by the demons of alcoholism and was sentenced to six months in prison for assaulting a stewardess on a flight back from Tokyo after riding in Japan. Having initially, though mistakenly, been placed on the sex-offenders' register, he would never commend a stay in Wormwood Scrubs, even though he was released early. But he has emerged from that experience, the time spent at The Priory, and the support of yesterday's winning owner, David Johnson, by whom he is retained, with his ambition reborn. Here, yesterday, Murphy finally secured the victory that has eluded him for so long.
Not so long as Tony McCoy, the 12-times champion still awaits his first National winner after his 13th time of asking; his mount, Butler's Cabin, fell at Becher's the second time round.
There was a certain irony in the fact that Murphy replaced McCoy at yesterday's winning Somerset stable, Pond House, when his compatriot moved to Jonjo O'Neill's yard. Martin Pipe was master then.
It has not all been plain sailing, but yesterday there were no complaints about Murphy's jockeyship, from now retired father or his son, in his second season as a trainer, on a day when money talked. Loudly. It is not such a common occurrence in this showpiece, despite bookmakers' protests. The victor was only the fifth favourite to win the race in the last 30 years. The price of the winner contracted significantly from early morning with ever-increasing weight of money.
But first things first. Half the fun every year is a private wager on how much of a fiasco the starter can make of his role. The race was off eight minutes late last year when the Senior Starter, Peter Haynes, was in charge. One wondered if he'd ever considered a job at Heathrow's Terminal 5. Although the racing authorities refused to blame Haynes, curiously, this year the responsibility was handed to his deputy, Sean McDonald, a former conditional jockey. He had claimed: "I don't do nerves", and duly sent them off first time.
On the first circuit, one of Pipe's other runners, Milan Deux Mille, along with Mr Pointment and Chelsea Harbour, had been prominent, but others were biding their time. The field was still well grouped after the first circuit, with 28 standing, and rarely can so many have been in contention as the field approached the final four fences.
Yet, Comply Or Die was going best as he leapt the penultimate obstacle alongside Snowy Morning. Murphy demonstrated the patience that makes him such a splendid horseman, refusing to ask his mount to give his all until the famous run to the Elbow. The nine-year-old, who went off 7-1 joint-favourite with Donald McCain's horse, Cloudy Lane, had always been travelling smoothly under a supremely confident ride from Murphy. The 33-year-old, originally from Co Kildare, waited with his mount until the last and came home four lengths clear of Arthur Moore's 20-1 shot King Johns Castle to claim the race, worth £450,000 to the winner. Two more Irish horses, the Willie Mullins-trained Snowy Morning and Tom Taaffe's Slim Pickings were third and fourth respectively.
"It took me a lifetime to win a National," said Martin Pipe, now his son's assistant. "And David's done it well already." Murphy added: "It's the best ride I've ever had over these fences. He always did everything well, but you can never rest on your laurels in the National. I had a quick peep, and Paul [Carberry on King Johns Castle] is not someone you like to see behind you. But at the Elbow my fellow picked up again. I'm delighted for David Pipe and my boss, David Johnson; it's a race he's always wanted to win."
As always before this race, portents had abounded – with support for runners including Simon, owned by Mercy Rimell, widow of Fred Rimell, who had trained four National winners; and, inevitably, Butler's Cabin, partnered by McCoy but none more so than for Cloudy Lane, viewed by many as Red Rum reincarnated. It had been thought that Donald McCain's eight-year-old could be as short a price as his father Ginger's three-times National victor Red Rum in 1975 when the Aintree legend started at 7-2 only to be beaten by L'Escargot. But this was Cloudy Lane's first attempt over the obstacles, much modified since Rummy's day but still severe and which had taken the lives of two horses the previous day. He could only finish sixth. There was only one National fatality, with McKelvey, second last year, humanely put down after getting loose and running into a post.
There is always far more about Grand National day than the nation's most-watched, and wagered-upon, race. The John Smith's People's Race went to Clare Twemlow, riding the Barney Curley-owned Zabeel Palace, with proceeds going to Curley's Dafa (Direct Aid for Africa). Unfortunately another rider, Jaclyn Jamieson, was taken to hospital after falling after the line.
But this was a day to admire the professionals, like Murphy, who has been to hell and back. If ever a man knew he had to get his life together it was him. In a sense, it was Comply Or Die.
1 COMPLY OR DIE (T Murphy) 7-1 JF
2 King Johns Castle 20-1
3 Snowy Morning 16-1
4 Slim Pickings 10-1
'Timmy did nothing wrong – I think he's the best'
It's everybody's dream to win the National. David [Pipe] has prepared Comply Or Die fabulously and said going out he was a certainty and wouldn't get beat, so what more can you ask for?
Timmy Murphy, Winning jockey
Timmy [Murphy] did nothing wrong. I think he is the best, that is why I employ him.
David Johnson, Winning owner
There's no feeling like it.
David Pipe, Winning trainer
It took me a lifetime to win the race and David's done it already. Someone told me I must have trained two other National winners, as I trained Gordon Elliott [last year's winning trainer] and David!
Martin Pipe, Trainer's father
I was a bit short at the second-last but he winged the last and I thought I was going to pick Timmy up at the Elbow. But he pulled out a bit more. The whole way up the straight I thought I was going to get there.
Paul Carberry, Rider of runner-up King Johns Castle
For a few strides after the last I thought we might do it, but the winner kept battling and had more reserves than us.
Arthur Moore, Trainer of King Johns Castle
He's run really well and he's jumped great. Turning in, I thought if I could tag on to the winning bunch that he would pick up, but the trip has taken a bit of the quickness out of him.
Jason Magurie, Jockey on joint-favourite Cloudy Lane
He jumped from fence to fence, but a bit to the left. Perhaps I made a bit too much use of him.
Davy Russell, Rider of Chelsea Harbour, who finished ninth
Even going out into the country I wasn't happy with him. I didn't like his action and he didn't seem himself. We'll have to get him back and see if there's anything wrong.
Willie Mullins, Trainer of former winner Hedgehunter
He was deadly. He gave me a serious spin. He'll not be 150-1 next year.
Robbie Power, Jockey on 125-1 shot Nadover, who was seventh
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