Walsh lands US Grand National
Ruby Walsh enjoyed more Grand National glory as he struck in the American version at Far Hills racecourse in New Jersey aboard Rawnaq on Saturday night.
Jockey Ruby Walsh hit the target in New Jersey
Walsh already has the full set of English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh Nationals to his name in a glittering career, and has even won the Australian equivalent.
He broke further new ground partnering the smart Rawnaq over two and a half miles, a horse he had in front of him when Cyril Murphy's nine-year-old beat the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon in the Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle in Nashville in May.
Nicky Henderson's Days Of Heaven and the Charlie Longsdon-trained Sharp Rise disputed matters with Rawnaq from flag-fall, before the latter began to assert going to the ninth in the $350,000 showpiece, the richest race over jumps in North America.
It was left to Scorpiancer to throw down a serious challenge, but Rawnaq and Walsh were always doing enough to hold on. Sharp Rise stuck on gallantly to take third under Brian Hughes.
Formerly trained in Ireland by first Robbie Hennessy and then Matthew Smith, Rawnaq won six races for the latter, including the Grade Two Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan.
He was also placed over hurdles and fences at Cheltenham before being sold to race on the other side of the Atlantic.
Rawnaq has proved a shrewd acquisition by Irish-born Murphy and his principal owner Irvin Naylor, and the victory at Nashville made him eligible for a $500,000 bonus if he can complete the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge by going on to win the Ryanair World Hurdle at Prestbury Park in March.
Walsh said: "It went really well, unfortunately his usual jockey Jack Doyle suffered some bad injuries a few weeks ago and that's why I'm here.
"I was the lucky guy who got to ride him today. He'd run over fences in Ireland and I was confident in his ability to jump, and jump racing is about being able to jump. Thank you to Mr Naylor for bringing me over and it's great to be here.
"The race unfolded beautifully, he jumped the first couple really well. It was an honest pace all the way, and when the English horses slackened off he outstayed them from there. The hill was quite testing, but he was in unbelievable shape.
"I saw too much of Rawnaq the other day, but I learnt that day he is a really strong stayer, Jack rode him and we couldn't get by him and he showed that again today the way he battled from the last fence.
"I didn't need to be asked twice to come, I thought he was the best steeplechase horse in America. It was a no brainer, and it's a huge purse. I was always going to come.
"What will spur Jack on in the next couple of months of his recovery would be riding this horse at Cheltenham."
Murphy said: "All I said to Ruby was 'do what you do best', and he did – there were no instructions.
"We were very optimistic today, the only concern was he hadn't run since May, but his training at home said he was right back to his best.
"We'll start concentrating on Cheltenham more now this has gone, that's where we are going to go. We're realistic, but we have a horse who deserves his shot."
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