Noble Yeats performs Sam Waley-Cohen’s fairy tale finale

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Sam Waley-Cohen, the 39-year-old English amateur jockey, was enjoying the ultimate racing fairy tale after winning the Randox Aintree Grand National in his very last ride on 50-1 Irish underdog Noble Yeats.

Emmet Mullins of Co Carlow, the 31-year-old nephew of champion trainer Willie Mullins, enjoyed a career high when he landed his first-ever runner in the world’s most famous steeplechase race.

However, the focus was inevitably on Waley-Cohen, sporting his father Robert’s colours, who just moments after passing the post summed up the most unlikely scenario: “You couldn’t make it up, could you!”

After Waley-Cohen announced earlier in the week that Noble Yeats would be his last career ride, Waley-Cohen pulled off the perfect send-off.

Just days after his 40th birthday, Waley-Cohen, a successful businessman who owns a chain of dental practices and previously won the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Long Run, became the first amateur in 32 years to win the National.

Noble Yeats proved too strong in the closing stages for 15-2 favorites Any Second Now as Delta Work completed an Irish treble in third place. Santini finished fourth at the end of a race full of incidents, 33-1.

Last year’s winners Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore were casualties falling on the ninth fence, Valentines, on the first circuit. The well-supported Run Wild Fred fell at the previous obstacle, the Canal Turn. Only 15 of the 40 runners finished the race with no reported injuries in the field.

But in a race with a rich history of notable stories, for an underdog, the synchronicity of announcing your retirement and then enjoying the perfect ‘Adieu’ in the greatest race of all time was a story almost unbelievable.

fairy tale

“It’s indescribable, it’s a fairy tale, a fantasy,” gasped the winning jockey afterwards. “We came here thinking the sun is out, it’s your last ride – go and ride a nice lap, no expectations. It’s a Dream.”

Noble Yeats was the first seven-year-old horse to win since 1940 and the 29th Irish-trained winner of the race.

Mullins has built a reputation as a smart young manager since first getting a license in 2015, with bookmakers learning to fear the former Cheltenham Festival winner. However, Mullins proved to be a savior for the shifts on Saturday.

Neither Any Second Now nor Delta Work featured prominently for much of the race, but came to the fore with two to go and it seemed to be a ding-dong battle between the two failed big guns.

However, Noble Yeats, who was just making his 12th career start, proved impossible to defeat, rallied after being led en route to the elbow by Any Second Now and eventually won by two and a half lengths.

“It’s a dream. It’s not going to sink in for weeks. It’s indescribable,” Waley-Cohen said afterwards as he held his two children and remembered his late brother Thomas, who was dying of cancer. “There’s a lot of love and gratitude.”

The jockey had previously finished second at the National in 2011 with the Irish-trained Oscar Time and had an excellent record over the national fences with half a dozen wins at other races.

The Waley-Cohens bought Noble Yeats in February, although Mullins had his sights set on the horse all season at the National.

“It was a long-term plan and somehow it seems to have worked out in the end,” said the coach. “A month ago we were probably more confident. The closer we got to that, the more everyone else seemed to be hyping their chances, and we got cold.”

It was frustrating again for the Any Second Now team, who had finished third in 2021 and momentarily looked set to win the race this time.

in tears

“It’s disgusting to be that close,” admitted his trainer Ted Walsh.

“But it’s also great for the Cohen family and to see the father walking down the path to meet his son in tears.

“Mark (Walsh) said he missed the break but jumped and rode well. I thought he might jump last but the other horse passed us from the elbow.

“I saw a lot that happened at the Elbow, including Crisp getting caught by Red Rum. Unfortunately, the post office is another 100 meters away and that’s where you get paid,” he added.

Gordon Elliott felt that Delta Work was a bit of a newcomer to his fences.

But while it was officially an Irish-trained winner, it still felt like a very English occasion, centered on the retired jockey, whose friendship with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was punctuated by a congratulatory tweet from the pair has been underlined.

Not surprisingly, Waley-Cohen won’t reverse his decision to retire.

“Thinking about doing this again is fool’s gold – I’ve made my decision, I’ve had the dream ride and what a way to go.

“I have always believed . . . but I could hardly hope. I never really bought the seven year old story. I figured a seven year old might win because not many seven year olds run in it, so there aren’t many statistics, but you can tell yourself anything by sitting on top of a seven year old.

“I’ve only actually sat on him three times – once with Emmett, once at Cheltenham and once today. I learned a lot about him at Cheltenham and I don’t think I would have had this ride today without that ride at Cheltenham.

“We were looking for a horse – we wanted to let Jett go, but he didn’t want to stay the trip. We had gone to Wetherby on a hunt and we saw Noble Yeats racing and we thought, ‘That’s interesting and he’s qualified for the National now – I wonder if they might be interested in doing something.’

“We spoke to Emmett and we really liked him – he’s a great coach – and we were like, ‘Why not? Let’s try it’, and one thing led to another.

“I’ve been so lucky with all the horses I’ve ridden and in a way all these rides that have been built to this day; You’re constantly learning new things, experiences, backgrounds – if I hadn’t had those days when things didn’t go so well, I wouldn’t have had it today,” said the man of the hour.

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