Paddy Power ambassador Ruby Walsh has detailed how Clan Royal’s dramatic exit from the 2005 Grand National prompted a rethink of tactics on Hedgehunter to secure victory at Aintree.
Hedgehunter was backed into favouritism despite a nasty fall at the last when handily placed in the previous year’s renewal. The Willie Mullins-trained bay gelding was running a more conservative race on his second spin over the iconic fences when Clan Royal, with AP McCoy in the saddle, moved into the lead after the first circuit.
The Aintree crowd was soon stunned into silence when a couple of loose horses ran across the track at Becher’s Brook and carried out Clan Royal blowing the race wide open.
Our Ruby was concerned about immediately following McCoy out of proceedings and had to rethink his plan to track the leader once the fence was navigated.
But it worked a treat as Hedgehunter dominated the rest of the field to win by 14l and become the first horse to carry more than 11st to victory since Rhyme ‘n’ Reason in 1988.
Speaking on the Grand National Tips episode of our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, Ruby said: “Hedgehunter had won the Bobbyjo Chase and was sent off favourite for the 2005 Grand National, so I definitely fancied him.
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“AP McCoy and Clan Royal was the big danger, but he got taken out at Becher’s Brook by the loose horses on the take-off side. The last two strides towards Becher’s Brook were pretty scary as I thought Hedgehunter was going to follow Clan Royal into the corner. He had lost all momentum on the approach and it felt like he had almost come to a standstill. I remember thinking on the last two strides ‘Do we have enough speed to get the height needed here?’
“But he got up, over and down and he then absolutely bolted in. He was doing half-speed from the Canal Turn.
“All I wanted was a lead in that year’s National, as Hedgehunter had pulled too hard and gone too fast the year before. I was looking for a target and I was happy with Clan Royal 10 lengths in front of me. I was just following him away and I had 1¼m to make up the ground. But all of a sudden, that was gone and I was left in the lead and thinking ‘This wasn’t even Plan Z’. We had to ad-lib it then!”
It was Ruby’s second win the race after steering father Ted’s horse Papillon to victory in 2000.
Our resident jockey-turned-pundit partnered Hedgehunter on his three subsequent appearances in the Grand National – finishing second in 2006, ninth in 2007 and 13th in 2008.
The duo also teamed up to place second in the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup when finishing 2½l behind War Of Attrition.
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