Noble Yeats gave amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen the ultimate send-off as they won the Randox Grand National at Aintree for trainer Emmet Mullins.
Waley-Cohen had announced before the race that it would be his final appearance in the saddle, and he rode the horse owned by his father, Robert, in a thrilling finish as trainer Mullins scooped the Aintree showpiece with his very first runner in the National.
Favourite Any Second Now, third last year, made it a real scrap from the final fence to the winning line, but he was ultimately held and finished second for trainer Ted Walsh and jockey Mark Walsh in the colours of JP McManus.
The top Irish owner had earlier bagged a Grade 1 double via Gentleman De Mee and Sire Du Berlais on the undercard in the Aintree sunshine.
Prior to this afternoon, Sam Waley-Cohen was best known as the amateur that rode Long Run to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 for Nicky Henderson, fending off legends like Denman and Kauto Star.
Now he's completed a supreme double of Britain's two biggest jumps races as the perfect end to his riding career.
The Grand National was only the second time Noble Yeats had carried the Waley-Cohen colours, after he was purchased from former owner Paul Byrne earlier this year.
Noble Yeats travelled well and moved into fourth spot running to the second last fence, with eventual runner-up Any Second Now forced to move wide of the field in his pursuit.
Any Second Now did hit the front after the last, but Noble Yeats responded generously for his rider and crucially got his head in front as they came to the elbow, an advantage he'd refuse to concede on the run to the line – sparking scenes of unbridled joy for his connections.
"I have to say thank-you's, as it's my last ever ride, to Dad – he's had unwavering belief and love for 23 years. It's been a love affair. That's beyond words, it's a fairytale and a fantasy," said the winning rider.
Noble Yeats became the first seven-year-old National winner since 1940 and winning trainer Emmet Mullins, nephew of trainer Willie Mullins, admitted there was plenty of confidence in the camp coming into the race.
"It was a long-term plan and it seems to have come off in the end, I don't know how," he said. "We were probably more confident a month ago but the closer we got to it everyone was talking up their chances but the horse didn't know any different. The form was there."
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Any Second Now once more emerged with huge credit, while third place went to Gordon Elliott's Delta Work, with Santini in fourth for trainer Polly Gundry.
Last year's winner Minella Times lost Rachael Blackmore mid-race, while the popular mare Snow Leopardess was pulled up before the final circuit.
Davy Russell has been no stranger to Aintree success and he once more teamed up with old ally Gordon Elliott to win the Mersey Novices' Hurdle on 5/2 fav Three Stripe Life.
Second to Sir Gerhard in Grade 1s at the Dublin Racing Festival and Cheltenham previously, Three Stripe Life took his big chance in fine style.
He moved strongly into contention for Russell, who had been out of luck in the opening two days of the meeting, before brushing aside the challenge of Harry Fry's Might I to win by just under five lengths, with North Lodge behind in third for Alan King.
Elliott was thrilled with a change in fortune and said Three Stripe Life, 10/1 to win the Marsh Novices' Chase at Cheltenham next season, has a future over fences.
"We've been hitting the crossbar all week," said Elliott. "The horses have been running well but that's the game we're in.
"I thought he might be doing a bit too much but he jumped brilliantly everywhere. He was bought to be a chaser and if you look at him that's exactly what he is."
The Willie Mullins-trained Gentleman De Mee downed odds-on favourite Edwardstone in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices' Chase, making every yard under Mark Walsh and coming clear late on after the Arkle winner briefly threatened his advantage.
After all-the-way wins at Thurles and Navan in recent starts, Gentleman Du Mee once more set off in front and nothing was willing to put pressure on him.
Third Time Lucki and 4/7 fav Edwardstone tracked him, with Harry Skelton doing very well to keep the former going after a bad mistake down the back straight, but they couldn't peg back the frontrunner.
"He's brilliant," said jockey Walsh. "He's a very forward-going horse. We tried to hold him up on his first run and it didn't work, so we just let him make the running and it works because he just wings his fences. He loves to get on with it."
Dual Stayers' Hurdle winner Flooring Porter went about his normal order of business in the Liverpool Hurdle, setting off to make every yard under Danny Mullins, as they did last month at Cheltenham.
Mullins made an early move for him, applying pressure that soon told on the likes of Thyme Hill and Champ, but Gordon Elliott's Sire Du Berlais emerged as a major danger, again in the JP McManus hoops under Mark Walsh.
Sire Du Berlais won the battle and made it a fifth Grade 1 success at this year's Grand National meeting for the powerful owner.
Second to Flooring Porter at Cheltenham in 2021, Sire Du Berlais had his revenge here with a gutsy effort to see off the favourite, scoring at odds of 16/1 in doing so.
"He's so tough and fair play to Gordon Elliott, he had him in some form," said the winning rider. "Things didn't go right in the Pertemps [last month] and it was brave call to run him in this.
"He winged around there and jumped super. It just shows you how good Gordon is and full credit to him."
After his Aintree defeat, Flooring Porter is now 6/1 to win a third Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.
Elsewhere on the National card, Sam Brown sprung a 28/1 shock for Aidan Coleman and Anthony Honeyball in the Betway Handicap Chase, denying favourite Shan Blue in ready fashion, while the opening EFT Construction Handicap Hurdle was won by Party Business for Ian Williams and claiming rider Charlie Todd at odds of 11/2.
The final race meanwhile, the Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Standard Open NH Flat Race, was won by Look Away for Neil King and Jack Quinlan, sustaining his run in the home straight to hold off the challenge of fast-finishing Hullnback for Paddy Brennan and Fergal O'Brien.
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