The seven-year-old collapsed after winning the four mile chase at Cheltenham last month and, on this occasion, was dismounted by Tony McCoy as he returned to the winner’s enclosure, after giving his pilot plenty of cause for concern.
“I felt him going and that’s why I got off”, reported McCoy, like O’Neill, enjoying a first success in Ireland’s premier National Hunt race.
“He just runs out of oxygen, but was soon grand, thanks be to God”, said O’Neill, as he was showered with congratulations.
Church Island made a brave attempt from the front and set a spanking gallop for much of the journey in the hands of Andrew McNamara.
McCoy was in no hurry and hunted round his partner in mid-division, waiting his moment to work into the contest. Butler’s Cabin arrived full of running early in the straight and McCoy powered him into the lead on the run to the final fence.
Ferdy Murphy’s Nine De Sivola, giving the invaders a 1-2, and American Jennie - fourth a year ago - tried to close, but the game Butler’s Cabin kept pulling out more and more and crossed the line a length and a length and three parts to the good.
Said McCoy: “He travelled and jumped great and, basically, that’s what you need to win these big handicaps.
“The reason he was able to do all of that was because he was going so well, it was such a help. I won a two and a half miler on him at Cheltenham and, obviously, he stays four miles.
“This was an unbelievable training performance, to get him to win an Irish National three weeks after he collapsed.”
O’Neill missed the initial celebrations, instead he went with Butler’s Cabin to ensure he made a full recovery.
He soon joined the press corps, a mighty relieved handler. Said O’Neill: “He has always done that.
“He gives his all on the track and then runs out of oxygen. He is a grand, genuine horse and AP gave him a great ride.
“It is everybody’s dream to win the National and everything worked out. He’s a gutsy lad, who gives everything.”
O’Neill indicated that Butler’s Cabin was now finished for the season. “He’s in the Whitbread (Sandown), but I think we will go out on that note. We can now consider the Aintree Grand National for next year.”
Cashmans promptly gave him a 33-1 quote.
Butler’s Cabin is owned by J P McManus, who watched the race at home.
He did win the National previously with Bit Of A Skite, who was trained by Edward O’Grady.
First prize was €141,500, but McManus also takes a €100,000 bonus. This was put up for any English-trained horse who scored at Cheltenham and then came onto Fairyhouse to win the National.
There was a massive gamble on 13-2 favourite Kings Advocate, backed as high as 25-1 ante-post.
He was taken down the inside by Ruby Walsh and appeared to be always moving well within himself.
When asked to raise his effort after four out, however, Kings Advocate hit a flat spot, before staying on strongly again at the end to claim sixth.
Casualty of the race was Colm Murphy’s Cheeky Lady, who broke her back and had to be destroyed.
Tony Dobbin took a fall three out off Cloudy Lane and was removed to hospital with a suspected broken right arm.
He is due to ride Longshanks in the National at Aintree this coming Saturday.