Not for the first time, a 33-1 outsider came to the rescue of bookmakers in a Grand National. Yesterday, it was unconsidered Hear The Echo in the Irish version of the marathon; the Mouse Morris-trained seven-year-old, ridden by Paddy Flood, finished 12 lengths ahead of the ante-post gamble Royal County Star.
Although Hear The Echo was a Grade Two winner as a novice last term, he had failed to trouble any judge in handicap company before yesterday. But yesterday's contest, three miles and five furlongs in testing ground, was perhaps made for a lightweight (even one 7lb wrong in the handicap) with a touch of class.
Flood brought the gelding, who carries the colours of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, into contention at half-way, and confidently took control of the race four fences from home as he went past Ballycullen Boy. Royal County Star, backed to 6-1 joint-favouritism, threatened to bring off another of the famous cunning plans of his trainer, Tony Martin, as he followed the leader through in second place, but his stamina had run out by the penultimate obstacle and he was treading water on the run-in.
"We thought ours was pretty well," said Morris. "Yes, he was wrong in the weights, but the ground helped with that. He'd never run over that far, but I was confident he'd get the trip. In fact, he'd want five miles, to be honest."
With no races that long in the programme book, Hear The Echo is likely to be asked to tackle the next best option, four and a half miles, around this time next year. "I think you'd have to say he'd be an Aintree horse of the future," said Morris.
The novice Notre Pere (12-1) ran a tremendous race for one of his tender experience back in third, with A New Story (25-1) a creditable fourth. Only 10 of the 23 starters finished; among the high-profile disappointments was the other joint-favourite, Cailin Alainn, who was never travelling or jumping with any fluency and was pulled up after being hampered seven fences from home.
The horse who discomfited her was Alexander Taipan, who was the race's only faller. Grimly, his mistake, when going well enough, was a fatal one. The top-weight, Beef Or Salmon, was pulled up two fences from home.
Sometimes, horses just do have the right name for a given occasion. After winning the hurdle race that preceded the Irish National, Conor O'Dwyer, a man who has consistently comported himself with dignity and professionalism and about whom few, if any, can muster a bad word, announced his retirement from the saddle. The name of his mount was Mister Top Notch.
O'Dwyer, a jockey for more than a quarter of a century, took out a training licence this season and his second career, from a 30-box, purpose-built yard on the Curragh, is now his priority. When he rode for the last time at the Cheltenham Festival – where he won two Gold Cups and two Champion Hurdles – his colleagues provided a guard of honour as he walked from weighing room to parade ring. Yesterday, they flanked the entrance to the winners' enclosure to welcome the elder statesman for the last time.
As he passed the post on Mister Top Notch, who is trained by Davy Fitzgerald, O'Dwyer, typically, contented himself with giving the nine-year-old a grateful pat on the neck. As he pulled up, his good friend David Casey, on runner-up Boulavogue, was the first to wish him well.
"I'm 42 next month and I've been riding for 26 years," said O'Dwyer. "I'd said I'd retire if I rode a winner at Cheltenham, but that didn't work out. So I decided today was going to be it, win, lose or draw. I've been lucky to get by without any serious injuries and I felt the time had come to be fair to my owners."
O'Dwyer won his Gold Cups in 1996 on Imperial Call and two years ago on War Of Attrition, in the same maroon colours and from the same yard as yesterday's feature race winner. His Champion Hurdles came on Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005 and other top-class horses who have benefited from his quiet, stylish strength include Native Upmanship and Strong Platinum.
He will no doubt hear the echo of appreciation of his exploits for a while to come. And this morning, he may well remember the name of the horse who in January provided his first winner as a trainer. Hangover.
Nap: Heaven Knows (Pontefract 4.20)
NB: Swinbrook (Pontefract 2.40)
Irish Grand National result
1 Hear The Echo (P Flood) 33-1
2 Royal County Star 6-1 jt fav
3 Notre Pere 12-1
4 A New Story 25-1
Won by 12 lengths, 4 lengths.
Also: 6-1 jt fav Cailin Alainn.
Winner trained: M Morris
Owned: M O'Leary
NRs: Pomme Tiepy, Barrow Drive, Coolnahilla.