General Principle grabbed a dramatic first victory in the BoyleSport Irish National at Fairyhouse for trainer Gordon Elliott, a success that ultimately could secure the trainer his first Irish jump trainers’ championship.
In a 3m 5f marathon run on heavy ground, Elliott’s big rival Willie Mullins, whose 13-2 favourite Pairofbrowneyes was an early faller, twice looked to have the race in the bag on Monday.
But first Mullins-trained front-runner Bellshill veered violently left and almost refused after leading into the final fence under jockey David Mullins as exhaustion set in.
Trainer Gordon Elliott congratulates jockey J J Slevin after winning Irish Grand National Chase
Then Danny Mullins-ridden stablemate Isleofhopendreams, who had been left in the lead, was cut down in the final strides and beaten a head by the JJ Slevin-ridden 20-1 shot.
The 270,000 euro first prize helps Elliott extend his lead in the Irish championship to over 500,000 euros. The season ends on April 28, the final day of the Punchestown Festival.
Elliott’s fast-finishing Folsom Blue, who suffered worst in the last-fence interference caused by Bellshill was subsequently promoted to fourth ahead of that rival.
Amazingly given the conditions only a length and three-quarters separated the first five home.
Elliott, who saddled 13 of the 30 starters, admitted that General Principle, who had finished fifth in the 2017 Irish National but has generally been campaigned at shorter trips, had been one of his lesser fancied contenders.
The trainer said: ‘He wasn’t one of my leading horses, but JJ gave him a great ride.
‘To be honest there were so many of them coming to the last, I didn’t know where to look. I was watching Folsom Blue as he was coming home strong, but he got mowed out of it and was unlucky.’
Slevin added: ‘There looked to be plenty of carnage at the last fence – I think Bellshill nearly landed on it – and I was just trying to keep my horse going.’
The Irish National win was a massive swing on the day for Elliott, who had seen Mullins win all three grade two Fairyhouse prizes courtesy of Coquin Mans, Getabird and Un De Sceaux.