In 2021, we rejoiced the return of horses to Aintree Racecourse after having to endure the Virtual Grand National the year before. Whilst that was amazing, it was a shame that Rachael Blackmore made history by becoming the first female winner of the race to an almost empty venue. For that reason, the return of actual human people to the course in 2022 was reason enough to celebrate. The Liverpool location was once again buzzing with the cheers and exclamations of a crowd that knew how fortunate it was to be there.
There wasn’t to be the same level of success for Blackmore this time out, but Aintree always has a story to tell and did again in 2022. This time it was that of Sam Waley-Cohen, the amateur jockey who had already declared that he’d be retiring in the wake of the race. He went out in style, winning with Noble Yeats to send his 50/1 backers into delirium. That meant that the Ted and Mark Walsh duo, riding the favourite, had to take a backseat to ‘narrative’. A ‘Mullins’ won another race, but this time it was Emmet rather than Willie.
What Happened In The 2022 Grand National?
The 174th renewal of the Grand National felt special, largely thanks to the number of people that turned up to Aintree to cheer on their chosen horse and jockey. Two years without a crowd at the famous event is the longest racegoers have had to endure since the Second World War, so everyone was out for a good time. There were 40 runners, as there has been virtually every year in recent times, with 15 of them finishing it, much like in 2021. Noble Yeats took home more than £500,000 for his connections, which is a decent prize in any sport.
Noble Yeats Lets Sam Waley-Cohen Retire In Style
There is no question that the winner of the Grand National in 2022 was the most feel-good story of the race in years. It was very much unexpected, given that no amateur had won the race for more than 30 years and no seven-year-old horse had been victorious since Bogskar did so in 1940. In the week leading up to the National, Sam Waley-Cohen had announced plans to retire after the race, declaring it to be ‘the right time’. One of the leading amateurs of his generation, Waley-Cohen bows out with a Gold Cup and a Grand National to his name.
When he won the Gold Cup with Long Run in 2011, he became the first amateur rider to do so since Jim Wilson managed it in 1981. That was a record of 30 years, so it should perhaps be no surprise that he repeated the trick of Marcus Armytage in 1990 of winning the Grand National as an amateur, breaking a record of 32 years. It was his 40th ride at Aintree, coming in the year that he turned 40, so it really was written in the stars for him to win it. He won the Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree on two occasions, but this was his first National win.
Prior to his race, many thought that Long Run was the horse that he’d be remembered for. Not only did the pair win the Gold Cup, Waley-Cohen also won the King George at Kempton twice with the horse. Now, though, there is some debate as to whether it might well be Noble Yeats that his name will forever be linked with. Winning the National isn’t an easy feat, with some incredible jockeys finishing their careers without managing it. Waley-Cohen will go down as one of the best ever amateurs, with no more fitting way of bowing out.
Last Year’s Winning Jockey Fell At Valentine’s
Rachael Blackmore deservedly earned all the plaudits last year, becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National in its history. For many, the only disappointment came in the fact that she did so in front of a virtually empty Aintree Racecourse, given that spectators weren’t allowed at sporting events due to COVID-19 restricitons. There was a hope that she might repeat the trick this time around, leading Minella Times into the winners’ enclosure to rapturous applause. Sadly, though, it wasn’t to be, with Blackmore taking a tumble at Valentine’s Brook.
She wasn’t the only jockey to fail to make it past the ninth fence on the circuit, with School Boy Hours, Augusta Gold and Deise Aba all suffering the same fate. Even so, those other horses weren’t given much of a hope by the bookmakers, being valued at 33/1, 66/1 and 80/1 respectively. Minella Times was a 9/1 hope, though it isn’t clear whether that is because the horse was well-fancied or there were just a lot of backers for the Henry de Bromhead trained hope on the back of last year’s Champion Jockey riding it.
The Bookies Were Happy
It remains a somewhat confusing notion for some people, but the bookmakers were delighted with the winner. When a horse is valued at 50/1, you’d think that the bookies would be annoyed at it winning because they’ll have to pay out large sums of money when it wins. In reality, though, the longer the odds, less people backing it, less chance of bookmakers having to pay out. Conversely, the bookmakers keep all of the bets money for the favourites. Think about when Leicester City won the Premier League title in 2016; it was a huge moment in the sport, but they were valued at 5,000/1 and very few people actually bet on them to do it.
100 people betting £10 on Noble Yeats at odds of 50/1 will mean a bookie having to pay out £50,000, yes, but if 1,000 people bet £10 on the favourite, Any Second Now, with odds of 15/2 and it won, the payout would be £75,000. So it was that the bookmakers were delighted to see Noble Yeats hold off the challenge of Any Second Now in order to end up as the winner. Having endured a torrid Cheltenham Festival, in which virtually all of the favourites won, they will have breathed a sigh of relief at the idea of earning at least some of their losses back.
A Win For A Mullins, But Not The One You’d Expect
If you get told that a trainer named Mullins has won a horse race, you’d be perfectly within your rights to expect to see Willie Mullins in the winners’ enclosure. This time, though, the Irishman had to take a back seat and cheer on his nephew. Emmet Mullins isn’t a name that many will know, certainly not as a trainer. Having spent a few years working as a jockey, Willie’s nephew decided to swap to training, enjoying success almost immediately. There are certainly some in the industry that fancy him to take over from his uncle in the long-term.
Having seen three of his four horses that travelled to the United Kingdom from Ireland win the race they were taking part in in 2022, he has certainly laid down a marker. Emmet’s dad, George, was a rider himself briefly, but decided instead to make a career out of transporting horses. Unsurprisingly, Willie tends to keep it in the family when moving his horses from one location to another, so many in the world of horse racing will recognise the green vans that George uses to get the horses he’s transporting to the course.
Still young, training the Grand National winner is sure to change Emmet Mullins’ life for the better. There will be owners queuing up to make use of his services in the future, so the fact that he is only 31 will be music to the ears of those looking to use a Mullins to train their horses for a long time yet. At the time of writing, he has 28 horses in his care and that is likely to shoot up before too long. If you want to back a Mullins, look out for Emmet’s name rather than Willie’s in the races to come. A Gold Cup win might come quicker than it did for his uncle.
Moments Of Note
- Sam Waley-Cohen won the race before retiring
- A seven-year-old won it for the first time in more than 80 years
- Spectators were allowed back onto the Aintree course
- Of the 40 runners, 15 made it to the finish line
- The Prize money on offer was at a high level in the post-pandemic landscape
- The bookies were happy with the 50/1 Starting Price of the winner