Thunder strikes for Katie Walsh and Sandra Hughes in Irish Grand National

It was Ladies Day at sunny Fairyhouse yesterday as 20/1 shot Thunder And Roses captured the Boylesports Irish Grand National for Katie Walsh and Sandra Hughes.

Thunder strikes for  Katie Walsh and Sandra Hughes in Irish Grand National

The novice spear-headed a great result for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, successful with Hear The Echo in 2008 and responsible here for the winner, runner-up Rule The World and fourth Band Of Blood.

But the day belonged to Katie Walsh who became the third lady rider to win the race, emulating her sister-in-law Nina Carberry, successful on Oreganisedconfusion in 2011 and Ann Ferris, who partnered Bentom Boy to victory back in 1984.

Of course, Katie’s brother Ruby, who pulled up Perfect Gentleman yesterday, has won the National on Commanche Court, trained by their father Ted, in 2000 and Numbersixvalverde in 2005.

Katie shared the big-race spotlight with Sandra Hughes, in her rookie season as a trainer following the death of her father Dessie back in November.

Fairyhouse provided her father with his first and last winners as a trainer and an Irish National success with Timbera in 2003. And, having saddled her first winner, Sub Lieutenant, on the track, she declared emotionally in the immediate aftermath of Thunder And Roses’ win: “Dad was with us all the way. He loved this race and to win it for him is amazing, really special.”

In testing ground, the marathon proved a severe test of stamina, with only nine of the thirty runners completing the course. There were six fallers at the first, including the well-fancied The Job Is Right and Gigginstown’s Empire Of Dirt. The race claimed the life of Tammys Hill, winner of the Foxhunters at Cheltenham last year, but put down after sustaining a serious injury jumping the fourth last fence.

The race developed into a three-way battle of Gigginstown horses, with Thunder And Roses, winner of his ‘beginners’ here in January, only getting on top on the run-on, drawing clear to triumph by four and a quarter lengths, with Jim Dreaper’s Sizing Coal (Jonathan Burke) coming through to take third spot and preventing a clean-sweep for the maroon and white.

Sandra Hughes stated: “It’s fabulous. Both Katie and the horse were brilliant. I was a little disappointed with him in Cheltenham, but the ground was just too good for him over there.”

She added: “He came out of the race really well and we thought all year that this was the race for him. He stays all day, jumps well and got his ground. So everything was in his favour today and Katie did everything to a tee. It was a super ride.”

Paying tribute to the O’Leary brothers she said: “I must give a huge thank you to Michael and Eddie for letting me train the horse.” She confirmed that Thunder And Roses, a seven-year-old Presenting gelding, is finished for the season.”

Katie Walsh is no stranger to big-race success, in Ireland, England and France. Savouring the moment, she commented: “I’m a very lucky girl. I’ve had so many good days and ridden some great winners, but this is right up there with the best. I never dreamed I’d win an Irish National. I just never though it would happen.”

Summing up the race, she explained: “He travelled and jumped great, which makes it so much easier in a race like this, although he missed the ditch past the stands. But, to be honest, anyone would have won on him today – it was that easy.”

The big-race heroine’s brother Ruby later commented: “It’s brilliant for Katie. Nina and herself are some ambassadors for lady riders !”

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