J.J's Grand victory!
Slevin snatches success by inches
The name of Wexford jockey, J.J. Slevin, will be forever etched in the record books after his marvellous victory in the 146th running of the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday of last week when he forced the nose of General Principle in front just inches from the line in a power-packed finish.
'As a young lad you dream of riding in these kind of races and to win it will take some time to sink in,' was his post-race comment.
Just eight finished from 30 starters in gruelling conditions, with most being pulled up when hopes were lost, but the first five crossed the line in a remarkable blanket finish at the end of a stamina-sapping three miles five furlongs. The glory and the biggest prize in the Irish jumping year went to the man who turned professional only in June, 2016.
Slevin (aged 25) is from Kiltrea in Caim and is son of Shay and Elizabeth. He and the family have been steeped in horses all their lives, with his father being involved in the point-to-point scene.
J.J. (James Joseph) rode 34 winners between the flags before turning to the track, many of them for his parents.
General Principle was one of 13 Gordon Elliott-trained horses in the Grand National field as the Meath man took the race for the first time, in the colours of Ryanair and Gigginstown House Stud supremo, Michael O'Leary. The Boylesport-sponsored National had a prize fund of half a million euros, with €270,000 going to the winners.
Slevin's mount went off at 20/1 and was not to the forefront of Elliott's considerations. 'He wasn't one of my leading horses but it's great to win. He ran very well in the race last year and J.J. gave him a great ride and it worked out great.'
However, J.J. was fully aware of General Principle's run a year earlier: 'Bryan Cooper had a choice of 13 or 14 horses last year and he picked General Principle, so he must have seen something in him, and he did finish fifth.'
Of course, J.J. saw this up close and personal as he was having his first ride in the National last year on board the 2015 winner, Thunder and Roses, trained for Gigginstown by Mouse Morris, and he just pipped General Principle for fourth place.
In the immediate aftermath of the race J.J. said: 'It's unbelievable. I was delighted to get the ride off the lads. It's massive and it's great to get a ride in the race, I can't really believe it.
'I never went for him and saved a bit the whole way until we landed at the back of the last. He really tried for me. The main thing was lobbing away, keep him in his rhythm and keeping him comfortable. I didn't want him in big open spaces and to get lonely. I was riding him to finish out his race and run well.'
Perhaps the extent of his achievement can be put in perspective by the horse he beat, Isleofhopendreams, which looked all over the winner until the final yards.
He is trained by Willie Mullins, the master craftsman who has dominated jumps racing in Ireland, and at Cheltenham, for many years. Yet Mullins has never won the Irish Grand National and now J.J. Slevin has!
While he was delighted with his win, he was not overawed when I spoke to him in midweek. I thought he might have had a chance to celebrate properly as there was no Irish jumps racing for most of the week due to ground conditions.
However, it was still very much a working week for J.J., riding out every morning at his cousin, Joseph O'Brien's, stables at Piltown, and helping out a bit around the home place as well.
It was not his first big winner for Elliott and O'Leary - last year at the Cheltenham Festival he won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle on Champagne Classic, a horse famously described by O'Leary as the worst one he owned! That win clinched the Festival champion trainer's title for Elliott for the first time, pipping Willie Mullins.
Perhaps Elliott and O'Leary should consider adopting J.J. as their talisman, and certainly they should consider him for a few more top-class rides in future.
However, he is very happy with the way his career is going and is delighted to be fully involved with his cousin, Joseph, while also picking up a steady stream of good rides from various trainers, thanks to the work of his agent, Ken Whelan.
J.J. Slevin - mark down the name; it is one you will be hearing much more of in the jumps racing game in the years to come, given reasonable luck and staying injury-free.
This hard-working and very level-headed young man from Caim deserves his success and is most unlikely to be carried away by it all.
J.J's strenuous efforts to get his horse home did not go unnoticed by the Fairyhouse stewards and he was hit with a seven-day ban for his use of the whip. Danny Mullins on the second was banned for three days.