The Coral Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr this week could prove highly significant in the engrossing battle for the British trainers’ championship – with Willie Mullins’ Macdermott shortening significantly in price for the big race with the sponsors.

Mullins had a hugely successful Cheltenham Festival and was frequently in the money at Aintree too, not least when taking the Randox Grand National with I Am Maximum to add £500,000 to the pot of prize-money he has won in Britain this season.

That sum puts him ahead of Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls and there is more money on offer still at the Ayr fixture coming up on Friday and Saturday, as Mullins seeks to emulate the great Vincent O’Brien, who won the British and Irish titles in successive years in the 1950s.

Coral have made Macdermott the 6-1 favourite for the Scottish National – which has a first prize of £112,540 – and Mullins the 1-2 favourite for the trainers’ title. In addition to the National, the Scottish Champion Hurdle is worth £56,270 to the winner.

“After the success of I Am Maximus in the Aintree showpiece on Saturday, punters are now backing Willie Mullins to make it a Grand National double with victory at Ayr and Macdermott is a significant market mover for the race, his odds tumbling from 10-1 to 6-1 clear favouritism, while the man himself is now 1-2 to land a first British trainers’ title,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

Officials at Ayr are understandably looking forward to the added interest in their big meeting after events at Aintree.

Clerk of the course Graeme Anderson said: “It’s pretty much all or nothing now for the title, Willie Mullins seems to be in control.

“We’re hoping he’ll be coming to Ayr, it really adds to the racing and definitely adds to the occasion, we’re really looking forward to it.

“We’ll see what tomorrow brings when the entries come in, but we hope they’re all in there and he’s pushing to get that title.

“Paul Nicholls has always been a big supporter of this meeting and then obviously with the win on Saturday, Willie Mullins has come on the scene. He hasn’t had a lot of runners at Ayr in the past so it’ll be good to see a good few of his.”

It was Henrietta Knight who first identified I Am Maximus’ star quality and she is now backing the Randox Grand National hero to go on and win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Gold Cup-winning trainer was in her role as racing manager to the late Michael Grech when she first laid eyes on I Am Maximus as a yearling and it was a clear case of love at first sight for Knight, who relished every moment of the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old’s Aintree triumph.

The 77-year-old now feels course winner I Am Maximus has all the capabilities to emulate her own Best Mate and capture the blue riband at the Cheltenham Festival.

Knight said: “I think he could win a Gold Cup. I’m not sure how Willie will cope with all his horses for the Gold Cup and which one he would consider the best, but he is a real stayer, Maximus, and he likes Cheltenham – he loves the hill.

“I really enjoyed watching the National and after he jumped the first two fences I said ‘he’s loving it, he’s got the hang of it and loves these fences’.

“We were just watching him creeping and creeping and he made that one mistake at The Chair, where he rather caught Paul (Townend, jockey) by surprise and he had to call a cab, but then Paul was very good as he didn’t rush him.

“He just let him get his confidence again and on he went on the second circuit, I thought it was fantastic to watch.”

I Am Maximus spent his first few summers with Knight at her West Lockinge Farm in Wantage and after the early stages of his racing career were overseen by Nicky Henderson, he switched to Mullins, who Knight credits with helping the burgeoning talent fulfil his destiny of winning Grand Nationals.

“I had the horse here a lot for two summers and parts of winter as well and he won a bumper and a novice hurdle for Nicky Henderson,” continued Knight.

“Mike wanted to move all his horses to Ireland and it was my idea to move him to Willie’s. I doubt anyone else would have won a National with him and he has trained him so well.”

She added: “I felt sorry for Jody McGarvey not riding him because he has done a good job on him this year, but that is how it goes in racing and you have to have your stable jockey on your top horse. Paul’s riding fantastic and I would want him on board.”

The son of Authorized is the latest champion off the Tom Costello production line that had been the source of Knight’s very own great, Best Mate.

The Costellos have been Knight’s go-to family when searching for high-quality new stock and I Am Maximus was an instant hit with not just Knight herself, but the horse’s original owner, who sadly died before his former charge reached his peak.

“I picked him out as a yearling and then I went back and bought him for Mike Grech as a three-year-old from the Costellos, from whom I bought Best Mate. He came from a fantastic place and all my best horses have come from them, not just Best Mate, but Calgary Bay, Racing Demon and Somersby as well.

“They produce good horses and they bought him from France as a yearling. I always loved him.

“Mike adored the horse and he was named after his wife Maxine, it was his favourite horse. It was unfortunate he had to give up his racing interests and when that time came, Willie thought he was an ideal candidate for JP (McManus).”

Shifting to the left at his fences has always been a trademark of I Am Maximus’ chasing career, while he has always been regarded as a touch ‘quirky’ by those who have dealt with him on the racecourse.

However, Knight – a known master on the schooling grounds – has nothing but praise for his jumping ability and explains how he always had the hallmarks of an exceptional staying chaser in the making.

“Most of the best horses are a little quirky and he has a little bit of his own ideas,” she said.

“He’s very straightforward to train but he has his own ideas about jumping. He was always a very, very good jumper and a careful jumper, but he just likes to measure his jumps up by going left-handed.

“In the Olympics, you will see the high jumpers go off sideways to measure the jump and it is what I Am Maximus has always done. That’s his mark and how he likes to do it.”

She went on: “He was always destined to be a chaser and he was unbelievable when he was here as a youngster – we would jump him a lot. He doesn’t want to fall, he always wants to get it right and that means he sometimes takes some rather strange jumps that catch the jockeys by surprise.

“I have some fantastic pictures of Maximus jumping all kinds of poles and everything else here, he could showjump, he is that careful, and he has got the time to be careful over staying trips. He’s good at conserving his energy and he doesn’t waste any in a race.

“He’s a very good horse and he would have gone round again in the National!”

There were no fallers in this year’s Grand National, as 21 of the 32-strong field completed the marathon course.

That is the highest number of finishers since 2005 and with the first four home all previous Grade One winners, Knight concedes the race is a far different proposition to the test her late husband Terry Biddlecombe would have encountered as a jockey, but a change that is necessary to adapt with the times.

“The first four home were all class horses and it just shows that cream comes to the top in races like that now,” explained Knight.

“It’s no longer a race where you will get a huge outsider from the bottom of the weights crop up, I don’t think. They skipped round a lot of the horses yesterday, they all looked fresh and everything looked good.

“The only thing is I think on the second circuit there is hardly anything to jump at as they’ve kicked all the top off – I think you could canter round on your pony and jump those. They are not what they were, but that is what the sport is now and people want to see a race without accidents.

“It’s just adapting to the times and it’s not like the brave riders of old who hunted round sitting on the back of their saddles on a long rein, with pot luck and huge fences. It’s more of a professional race now.”

Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler is none the worse after his Randox Grand National title defence ended at the first fence.

The 10-year-old won the race for owners The Ramblers last season, prevailing by two and a quarter lengths to give the Kinross trainer her second success after One For Arthur in 2017.

This season Corach Rambler aimed to emulate great horses such as Red Rum and Tiger Roll in returning to Aintree to retain his title, but first he was a contender at the very top level in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

There he ran an admirable race when finishing third behind Galopin Des Champs, a run that made his handicap allocation for the Grand National look rather generous.

As such he was well-backed on return to Liverpool and started at 15-2 under Derek Fox having been the favourite for much of the ante-post phase.

Sadly his race ended only moments after it began, with Corach Rambler stumbling on landing after the first fence and unseating Fox.

He then ran loose to the next fence and fell when meeting the ground on the other side, though connections were spared the ordeal of seeing him run riderless for the rest of the race as was he corralled ahead of the third fence and caught.

Russell reported him to be unscathed following the experience and will now call it a day for the season and allow him to enjoy a summer break.

“He’s had a good sleep in his stable and is perfect,” she said.

“We’re very pleased and relieved to have him home in one piece and he’ll now go on a nice holiday and then we’ll decide what happens next.

“He just seemed to stumble and it’s one of the those things, but luck was on our side still as he’s absolutely fine.

“He went into one of the corrals, it’s very good how they work, he was caught quite quickly and that was a relief.”

He could have been forgiven for thinking ‘what if’ when former pupil I Am Maximus sauntered his way to Randox Grand National glory – but Nicky Henderson was simply thrilled for all concerned and three days at Aintree he feels the sport can look back on with pride.

It still seems remarkable Henderson has not trained a National winner during what continues to be a hugely distinguished career, and it is perhaps indicative of his luck in the world’s most famous steeplechase that I Am Maximus was housed at his Lambourn base before switching to Willie Mullins in Ireland.

The future National hero won both a Cheltenham bumper and a Newbury novice hurdle while in the care of Henderson, who admits he was the one runner he was keeping a close eye on during Saturday’s main event.

“I’ve let one slip through the net,” quipped Henderson. “It’s ironic, you spend 45 years trying to win the Grand National and you finally get your mitts on one and we let it get away.

“He was here and spent his first two seasons here – he was a lovely horse – and he was the one horse I wanted to win yesterday.

“I suppose the only thing I might have done to contribute to his success was probably the way we minded him quite a bit when he was young, because he was big and backwards and raw.

“He was a lovely horse with a great temperament, but he wasn’t really ready for big battles in those days and just needed to be treated with respect – and I think that’s what we did.”

He was owned at the time by Michael Grech, who was to switch all his horses to Ireland in the summer of 2022, with I Am Maximus joining Mullins’ swelling Closutton ranks to embark on a novice chasing campaign which culminated in Irish Grand National success in April 2023.

Grech sold I Am Maximus to JP McManus before that Fairyhouse triumph and sadly did not get to see his former charge’s finest hour at Aintree, having died in September last year. But Henderson believes the horse’s big-race victory will be a lasting tribute to his good friend.

He continued: “I’m thrilled, he belongs to JP, who is one of my biggest supporters here and Willie is a great mate – I told him he needed to go get that horse. I’m genuinely thrilled for them.

“Sadly, he had to move on (from ourselves) and Michael Grech was lovely, we had some tremendous days together and it was great fun. The horses then had to go over to Ireland and sadly Michael died and it’s very sad because he was a lovely man.

“All his family were there yesterday, Maxine (his wife) and his children and it was a sad day for them, but he won in Mike’s memory.”

Henderson did not have a runner in this year’s National, but was keen to heap praise on officials at Aintree for not just the successful alterations they made to the race itself, but for the three days in Liverpool overall.

The 73-year-old roared back to form himself on Merseyside after a testing Cheltenham Festival, with star performers Sir Gino and Jonbon both scooping Grade One honours.

He described the action on Merseyside as the “best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere”, with racing deserving of a massive pat on the back after a thrilling three days of action in the north west.

“I thought it was a fantastic race and it was a brilliant three days, you won’t see better racing anywhere,” said Henderson.

“Aintree need huge credit for it and after Cheltenham everyone was so down and out, it was all so gloomy and everything was wrong, so after all that, we need to say this was brilliant.

“I wasn’t going round Cheltenham doom and gloom because I couldn’t play, but I was back playing the game again this week which was good fun and the horses ran well throughout the week.

“It was a fabulous Grand National, with lots of horses getting round and everyone safe and sound, which is always a paramount – and I just thought it was the best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere and it wants to be celebrated and paraded and everyone saying well done to everyone.

“The sport did very well for three days and I know we are all under the cosh at Cheltenham and under pressure and maybe things get a bit heated or overtried, but up at Aintree everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy it and they did – and I thought it was first class all the way through.”

Gordon Elliott has hinted exciting mare Brighterdaysahead could be sent novice chasing next season.

The Cullentra House handler has made no secret of how highly he rates the half-sister to star performers such as Mighty Potter and Caldwell Potter.

She was a beaten favourite when second to Golden Ace in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but bounced back to claim Grade One glory at Aintree on Saturday.

Brighterdaysahead was subsequently promoted to second-favourite for next year’s Mares’ Hurdle behind Lossiemouth, but the Gigginstown House Stud-owned five-year-old may now be put over fences instead.

“I’ll have to speak to Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) about whether we’ll go chasing or whether she’ll stay hurdling, that’s yet to be confirmed,” said Elliott.

“But knowing Michael, he loves chasers and it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if she goes chasing next year.”

Elliott was understandably delighted with the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle success, with Brighterdaysahead coming home seven and a half lengths clear of stablemate Staffordshire Knot.

The trainer told Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme: “I was gutted when she got beat at Cheltenham, because I’d said how much I thought of her, but what she did yesterday, I thought she looked special. I got a big kick out of that, to be honest.

“She’s going the right way and I think she’s going to be stronger with a summer’s grass – we’re really looking forward to next year with her.

“She’s just got a great attitude, she’s very classy and I loved the way she jumped, she was very quick from A to B, very fast away from the hurdles.”

Elliott just missed out in his bid for a fourth Grand National triumph but hailed the efforts of runner-up Delta Work and fourth-placed Galvin, who are set to have another crack at Aintree glory next year.

He said: “You’d like to think with the way they ran that would be the road for them. They’re not getting any younger, so it’s not going to be easy for them, but we’ll work our way back from the Grand National again.”

Richard Hannon’s Group One winner Rosallion will head straight for the Qipco 2000 Guineas.

Hannon and owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid had been weighing up whether to take in a trial en route to the Newmarket Classic, for which the Blue Point colt is a best-riced 6-1 second-favourite behind City Of Troy.

However, they have decided the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner will avoid a testing run in soft ground and go there fresh.

“We have made the call that due to the unbelievable amount of rain we have had over the past months, Rosallion will not have a prep run and will head straight to the 2000 Guineas in May,” said Hannon on his website, www.richardhannonracing.co.uk.

“It has been a tough decision for both myself and his owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, but with the ground as testing as it currently is, a run now would be too hard for him to recover in just two weeks.

“Rosallion has been in great form at home and we have given him two away days now where he has looked very impressive. He is fit and well and we are confident that he goes to Newmarket ready to take his chance.”

Betfair’s ‘Rachael Blackmore Serial Winners Fund’ wrapped up having raised £250,000 for the Injured Jockeys Fund and the Irish Injured Jockeys.

The initiative began on Betfair Chase day at Haydock last November, when the bookmaker pledged to add £5,000 to the pot every time Blackmore rode a winner between that meeting and the Grand National fixture.

Betfair kicked off the fund with a £100,000 donation and Blackmore duly provided the winners, including two Cheltenham Festival victories worth a boosted £10,000 each.

She then came incredibly close aboard Bob Olinger in the Aintree Hurdle on Thursday, missing out by a nose after suffering interference and failing to persuade the stewards that the placings ought to be reversed.

Betfair added to the fund nevertheless, providing a ‘justice payout’ to hit the £250,000 mark as the fundraising window drew to a close following Blackmore’s third-placed run aboard Minella Indo in the Grand National.

Blackmore said: “The Serial Winners Fund was an incredible initiative run by Betfair throughout the season in support of the Injured Jockeys Fund in Ireland and UK, it’s one that I am very proud to have been a part of.

“This really is a substantial donation, generously topped up by Betfair, and will support the vital work they carry out helping jockeys in all areas of their lives.”

Lisa Hancock, CEO of the Injured Jockeys Fund, added: “Coming to the Canal Turn, we thought that Rachel and Minella Indo were going to finish the initiative in the most spectacular way, but I Am Maximus had other ideas.

“It’s been a wonderful campaign for us and we are so grateful to the Betfair team for supporting us so very generously.”

Michael Higgins, general manager of the Irish Injured Jockeys, commented: “We’re delighted to be part of the Betfair Serial Winners Fund with our UK colleagues the IJF. Thanks to Betfair for their generosity and Rachael for her winners.”

Betfair’s Charlotte Booth said: “Our team visited both Oaksey House in Lambourn and the RACE facility in Ireland and witnessed firsthand the work both charities do. It’s nothing short of amazing to see the services and support they provide to jockeys and the dedication of the teams.

“These are such important charities for the racing community, and I am sure this initiative has raised awareness of these great causes.”

Leading owner JP McManus finished an incredible three-days at Aintree by watching I Am Maximus provide him with a thrilling third triumph in the Randox Grand National.

The famous green and gold silks of McManus were a frequent sight in the winner’s enclosure over the three-day meeting in Liverpool, with the Emmet Mullins-trained Its On The Line scoring over the Grand National fences in the Foxhunters on Thursday before a Grade One treble on Friday afternoon.

Inothewayurthinkin, Mystical Power and Jonbon were all successful on day two, but the best was still to come.

Although McManus had spoken of his liking for the chance of Limerick Lace – bred by his wife, Noreen – in the lead-up to the world’s most famous steeplechase, it was his first colours that were carried to victory by the Willie Mullins-trained favourite, I Am Maximus, who ran out the most impressive of winners in the hands of Paul Townend.

Flanked by his grandchildren, McManus was lifting the trophy for a third time as I Am Maximus joined the likes of Rhyme ‘n’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde to follow up victory in the Irish Grand National on Merseyside.

In the aftermath he was keen to stress his love for both the great race and Aintree, and told ITV: “I love everything about the race.

“I love Liverpool, the excitement of coming here, the build-up to the National, it’s just a very, very special place. When you win it’s a wonderful spectacle.

“The Grand National, you are always looking forward to it and what you might have for the next one because it is such a special race.

“Willie planned the campaign with this horse a long time back and thankfully it worked out.”

McManus has already played a key part in National history having provided Sir Anthony McCoy with a long-awaited Aintree success when Don’t Push It struck in 2010, while that was topped in 2021 when Rachael Blackmore rode herself into the record books aboard Minella Times in the Irishman’s colours.

Willie Mullins said it was “game on” in his pursuit of a first British trainers’ championship as I Am Maximus provided him with a second Randox Grand National victory.

While it has taken 19 years for him to follow up his initial success with Hedgehunter, his domination of the National Hunt scene on both sides of the Irish Sea is now such that he is odds-on across the board to win a title in a country in which he does not even reside.

The prospect of emulating the legendary Vincent O’Brien – who did it in successive years in the 1950s – has loomed large ever since Mullins once again commanded the Cheltenham Festival, winning the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in the process.

Mullins himself, though, played down the prospect, with one proviso – unless he won the £1 million National.

I Am Maximus was sent off the 7-1 favourite under Paul Townend, one of eight runners for the yard, and despite one or two hairy moments that are generally par for the course in a Grand National, he seldom looked like not winning.

With a lead of almost £40,000 over Dan Skelton, Paddy Power make Mullins the 8-15 favourite, and British racegoers certainly have not seen the last of the man from Closutton this season.

“I didn’t know we’d gone in front. You can expect to see us at Sandown, Ayr and wherever!” he said.

“We’ll have to go for it now. We needed to have a really good National and we have. It’s game on now, isn’t it.

“I’d love to win the championship. Vincent O’Brien has done it in the 1950s and it is something different to do.

“As much as I’d like to win it my owners would like me to win it and so would my staff, so now we’re in this position you have to have a real go.

“JP McManus (owner of I Am Maximus) has been telling me for the past couple of years to have a real go, but I always think just mind yourself at home rather than spread yourself too thin and leave yourself wide open to have a bad season at home.

“Travelling horses takes it out of them, especially early in the season, which is why we don’t do it, but it’s panned out well today.”

Mullins himself is taken aback by the quantity of the quality in his yard. But even for him, winning the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and the National is something special.

“You might have the favourites for all those races, but you don’t for one minute think you are going to win all three,” he said.

“We can’t believe it at home. We’re gobsmacked looking at the talent we have in the yard. When I was a smaller trainer I’d be proud to have one of the barns that we have.

“I have an amazing team, I don’t think I saddled a runner at Cheltenham, I let them do it and it probably works better when I’m not involved.

“If someone had said we’d have 100 winners at the Festival you wouldn’t have thought it was possible, so we’re as amazed as anyone that it happened.”

So it could be a very different end to the season for Mullins, with Sandown and Ayr occupying his thoughts rather than Punchestown, but Townend may not be on many of them.

“We have a different programme nowadays to when Vincent won it. I find the English programme very hard to navigate, it seems to be a lot of handicaps and that is tough on horses,” Mullins said.

“I’ll let David Casey (assistant), who plans those things, get to work on it. He’ll be working overtime over the next two or three weeks!

“Paul has a title of his own to try to win so I’m not sure if he’ll be coming over, he’s got four winners to make up on Jack Kennedy.”

“The National exactly as we want it” – that was the verdict of Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale after the first running of the Randox Grand National under new conditions.

A number of revisions were made to the famous four-and-a-quarter-mile chase this year, not least reducing the maximum field from 40 to 34 runners – although two late withdrawals meant 32 horses actually went to post for the earlier 4pm start.

The pre-race parade was altered to a canter in front of the stands, with a standing start implemented and the first fence moved closer to the off. The 11th fence was also reduced in height by two inches on the take-off side, with some ‘levelling off’ on the landing side to reduce the height of the drop.

The changes resulted in 21 finishers and no official fallers in the Aintree showpiece, although last year’s winner Corach Rambler did come down at the second fence when running loose after unshipping his rider at the first obstacle.

Truesdale said: “We’re absolutely delighted, the changes have clearly had a very positive impact. I think it was probably the cleanest National I’ve ever seen.

“You’ve got to go back to 1992 to find more finishers, so we’re really pleased. I think the standing start seemed to work and I thought the jockeys were very sensible and it was a very well-ridden race, great credit to all involved.

“It was a really exciting finish, the National exactly as we want it.”

Clerk of the course Sulekha Varma echoed Truesdale’s thoughts, although she is keen to see what impact moving the first fence closer to the start had on the speed at which the field met the initial obstacle.

She said: “Everybody is coming up to me saying what a good race to watch it was, it was exciting and there were so many horses still in contention and we had a fabulous winner.

“There’ll always be time for review and analysis, it’s not right now, but we do that every year. As it stands we are very pleased so all credit to the jockeys and to everybody involved in the race, it’s been great.

“A few people have said they thought the standing start worked well which is great, I need to find out what speed they got to going to the first. What a shame for Corach that he went at the first, but there’s been some great performances and they all came back safe and sound.”

Given the very wet winter and spring so far, there had been fears the going would be heavy on the National course. But after some drying weather, the race was eventually run on soft ground.

Varma added: “The ground hasn’t been bad, there were one or two doomsayers before we started. I bit my tongue and decided to wait to see how it rode, but overall I’m pleased.”

Critics of the changes felt the reduced field in particular would detract from the Aintree spectacle, but Rachael Blackmore, who won the race on Minella Times in 2021 and finished third this year on Minella Indo, did not feel the race lost any excitement.

She said: “I got a nice passage round and had plenty of space when I wanted it. It was still a fantastic race to ride in.”

Retired multiple champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy said: “It was the most wonderful finish. I’ve never seen so many horses in with a chance of winning the Grand National so late in the race. What an incredible race – just a brilliant spectacle.”

Ruby Walsh, who won the Grand National twice, added: “If that doesn’t convince people that this is a wonderful sport then I don’t know what will.”

Bookmakers were put to the sword as I Am Maximus’ supreme Randox Grand National triumph meant the layers left Aintree licking their wounds.

It has been a chastening week for the layers in Liverpool, with a huge amount of winning favourites inflicting misery.

And that was compounded in the main event itself as Willie Mullins’ 7-1 market leader became the second consecutive winning favourite of the world’s most famous steeplechase after Corach Rambler’s success in 2023.

“It was a tough opening two days of the Aintree Festival for the bookies and the Grand National didn’t provide any respite on day three,” explained BoyleSports’ Brian O’Keeffe.

“I Am Maximus delivered a knockout blow in the big one for punters as he was one of our biggest liabilities. The placed horses weren’t kind to us either, but there’s always next year!”

It was Mullins’ second win in the Aintree showpiece and the sport’s leading trainer is no stranger to giving the bookies a bashing on the biggest stage, as I Am Maximus led home a 1-2-3-4 for Irish-trained horses.

“It was that man again Willie Mullins who so often is a thorn in our side,” said Sam Boswell from BetVictor.

“Whilst we had a significant spread of money in the race, we still ended up down thanks to the brilliant performance from his eight-year-old who had plenty of backers.

“Minella Indo, Delta Work and Kitty’s Light who all placed had plenty of each-way support too and it continued the theme of the jumps season which has been utter Irish domination in the big races.”

I Am Maximus’ victory puts Mullins in pole position to claim a first-ever UK trainers’ championship and he is now the general favourite to lift the trophy aloft at Sandown in two weeks time.

“The £1million Grand National was always likely to have a massive say in this season’s NH trainers’ title race, and of the three contenders, Willie Mullins went into the race with the strongest hand,” said Coral’s David Stevens, with the firm offering 4-5 for the master of Closutton to win the title.

“Victory for I Am Maximus has seen him claim favouritism for the championship for the first time, as the competition moves to next week’s big Ayr meeting and the £250,000 Coral Scottish National.

“The Grand National remains the biggest day in the betting calendar, and while I Am Maximus had plenty of supporters, he was one of many runners to prove popular on this unique occasion, and so we’ve no complaints about the result.”

Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes added: “This year’s trainers’ title race is giving the Premier League race a run for its money. In what has turned into a very exciting three horse race, Willie Mullins’ Grand National victory has put him firmly in front of his rivals.”

Gordon Elliott again had to give best to the “thorn in his side” that is Willie Mullins, with Delta Work finding only I Am Maximus too good for Delta Work in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The two powerhouse trainers have long matched strides at the top of Irish racing, with Elliott having to settle for second in the Irish trainers’ championship on multiple occasions as well as on some of the biggest of British stages, including when Gerri Colombe chased home Galopin Des Champs in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Elliott fielded seven in his bid for a fourth Grand National following Silver Birch (2007) and dual hero Tiger Roll (2018 and 2019), with particularly high hopes for Delta Work who was having a third crack at the race having finished third in 2022 and unseated his rider last year.

But as has been the story for much of the season, Mullins was a cut above the rest, with I Am Maximus coming home seven and a half lengths ahead of Delta Work, with fellow Elliott runner Galvin a further length back in fourth.

While disappointed to be denied, Elliott hailed the both the efforts of his runners and the “exceptional” winner.

He said: “It just didn’t happen for us. No one remembers second, I don’t anyway.

“Delta Work was awesome and Galvin is a warrior, I’m so proud of him and I’m so lucky with the horses I have.

“Delta Work was flying come here and I thought this was his year. He ran his race and just got beat by a better horse, that’s it.

“The winner is exceptional and Willie Mullins remains a thorn in my side.”

Jack Kennedy was aboard Delta Work and added: “He ran a cracker, delighted with him. He made a couple of mistakes but travelled well and ran a great race.”

It briefly looked as though Rachael Blackmore was going to add a second National to her historic first win aboard Minella Times three years ago when Minella Indo jumped the last in front, but she was overhauled on the run to the line, eventually coming home third aboard the 2021 Gold Cup winner.

She said: “It was a massive run, he’s some horse. He gave me a great ride around there and I felt for a split second we were going to do it, but then I blinked and I could see the green and gold (colours of owner JP McManus) flash by me in a shot.

“He was in against younger legs, but it was a brilliant run and congratulations to Paul Townend, JP and Willie.”

Minella Indo’s trainer Henry de Bromhead admitted he believed another famous success could be on the cards – but he was nevertheless thrilled in defeat, with future plans for the 11-year-old yet to be discussed.

De Bromhead said: “He’s a warrior, isn’t he? Just brilliant. I’m delighted with him.

“I thought we were going to win it there for a second, he travelled so well for Rachael, she was brilliant and they were both brilliant together.

“To get horses like him is incredible, we’ve had so much fun with him.

“We’ll see about next year, we’ll enjoy today and see – he obviously owes us nothing and all we want to do is look after him. But I tell you what, the way he jumped round there he looked like he loved every minute of it.”

De Bromhead also saddled Ain’t That A Shame to finish sixth for amateur rider and owner David Maxwell, who purchased the horse last month specifically to ride in the National.

He added: “David gave Ain’t That A Shame a super ride, he was brilliant on him the whole way. I’m delighted for him as he got such a thrill from it.”

Kitty’s Light fared best of the numerically limited British-trained challenge among the 32 starters, coming home a 10-and-quarter-length fifth for trainer Christian Williams and jockey Jack Tudor.

Williams said: “He travelled and jumped so well, I thought we were the winners all the way. I’m immensely proud of him and those were graded horses in front of him at the finish, including a Gold Cup winner.

“I’m unsure where he will go, because I really wanted him to win the National, but we will probably look at Sandown (for the bet365 Gold Cup).”

Last year’s National winner Corach Rambler got no further than the first fence this time, with Derek Fox unseated on landing after the Lucinda Russell-trained runner had cleared the obstacle.

The horse carried on running loose with the field and fell at the next fence but was reported to have returned unscathed.

Russell said: “It was obviously disappointing what happened, but I was more worried when I saw him come down at the second. Thankfully he’s fine, no problems and the owners are just delighted that he has come home safe and sound.”

Found A Fifty was the epitome of bravery in a pulsating finish to the My Pension Expert Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Gordon Elliott’s Arkle runner-up had seen the form of that race franked by Cheltenham Festival third Il Etait Temps on Thursday and with Quilixios and Nickle Back leading the field along at a strong pace, the seven-year-old’s stamina was assured to come into play in the closing stages.

Both Jack Kennedy aboard Found A Fifty and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Master Chewy edged their way into contention and it soon became evident they would fight out the finish of this race, as Quilixios backed out of things after two out.

There was little to separate the pair at the last and it seemed Master Chewy was going to keep on to glory when edging his head in front up the run-in. But Found A Fifty (11-8 favourite) was not for lying down and rallied gamely to get back up after a titanic tussle in the shadow of the post.

Elliott said: “We’ve had a great season, we’ve been hitting the crossbar all week and what’s not winning is running very well.

“I’m thrilled to see this horse win and I’m delighted for Noel and Valerie (Moran, owners). It’s a huge day and he was tough. He’s a good horse.”

I Am Maximus was an emphatic winning favourite of the Randox Grand National, storming clear of his rivals to give the all-conquering Willie Mullins a second victory in the Aintree showpiece.

Successful with Hedgehunter 19 years ago, Mullins was responsible for eight of the 32 who headed to post in Liverpool, but I Am Maximus was well-touted to follow up last year’s success in the Irish Grand National.

An impressive tune-up in the Bobbyjo Chase saw punters latch onto the Grade One-winning eight-year-old and Paul Townend rode the 7-1 market leader with supreme confidence down the inner as I Am Maximus showed no sign of previous jumping frailties.

In a race with early drama when defending champion Corach Rambler unshipped Derek Fox at the very first fence, there were a plethora still in contention heading down to two out, where I Am Maximus was inching into contention.

However, the complexion of the race would change at the elbow where I Am Maximus scooted clear of the Rachael Blackmore-ridden Minella Indo and the staying-on Delta Work, who picked up second place in his third attempt at the famous race.

It was a first Grand National triumph for Townend, while owner JP McManus was striking at Aintree for the third time after Don’t Push It (2010) and Minella Times (2021).

Freshness was the order of the day as Strong Leader landed a telling blow in the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.

Olly Murphy’s seven-year-old had hit the frame on his first attempt at three miles in January’s Cleeve Hurdle and his handler’s decision to skip the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was rewarded in Liverpool as the mount of Sean Bowen produced a brilliant display.

Towards the rear in the early stages as Aintree regular Flooring Porter was disputing the lead with the evergreen Dashel Drasher and King George hero Hewick, Bowen made a notable move aboard Strong Leader heading down the back side on the second circuit, soon joining those towards the head of proceedings.

Buddy One was another to take close order rounding the bend for home, with Jack Gilligan setting sail aboard the Irish raider. But Bowen was holding on to plenty of horse and after powering his way to the front jumping the last, he galloped on to score by four and a quarter lengths at odds of 8-1.

Buddy One bravely kept on for second, with Henry de Bromhead’s Hiddenvalley Lake third, but they were never a match for Strong Leader who gave his trainer just a second Grade One victory after Itchy Feet back in February 2020.

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