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National hopefuls all set to make the trip bar Ballytrim; ON SUNDAY.

Byline: WILLIE MULLINS

WITH the exception of the setback that has ruled Ballytrim out of the race, I've been happy with the way things have gone with our other John Smith's Grand National contenders - The Midnight Club, Dooneys Gate, Scotsirish, Arbor Supreme and Our Monty - during the past week.

They all did a good bit of work on Tuesday and I was very pleased with them. Unfortunately, Ballytrim was later found to be lame and as we're now near the closing stages of the season he's going to have a good break.

We're not certain yet whether Arbor Supreme will get into the National, but his prospects of doing so are improving and if he does David Casey will ride. Our Monty is another bubbling under the top 40 and is a bit further down the list than Arbor Supreme, so we'll have to wait and see if he makes the cut. Katie Walsh will ride.

Scotsirish is also in the Topham on Friday. He finished second in the race last year carrying plenty of weight and we have a decision to make as to whether he'll try to go one better or wait and take his chance in the National the following day.

I mentioned last Sunday that Dooneys Gate, who is owned by my wife Jackie will be will be a first National ride for our son Patrick and he's going to get his first experience of the famous Aintree fences on Thursday when he rides Boxer Georg for us in the Fox Hunters'.

Mention of the Fox Hunters' takes me back many years - to 1983 in fact when I had my first ride over the National fences in the race. What an introduction it proved to be. I was lucky enough to win it on a horse named Atha Cliath, who was trained by my father.

Just to get a ride over those famous fences was a huge thing for me at the time and I remember travelling over to Liverpool by ferry the week before the meeting and taking a train out to Aintree to walk the course. It was an adventure as I got a close-up look at what lay ahead of me and to say I was confident would be an exaggeration.

Atha Cliath had been trained by Jim Dreaper for Oliver Freaney before he came to us. My father trained him for Des Hehir, whose colours were the black and amber Kilkenny county colours. The horse had ability but riding him in hunter chases at some of the smaller Irish tracks was sometimes a scary experience.

HE COULD frighten the life out of you at times and frequently rattled his fences, hitting every board he could. What he was going to be like at Aintree was anyone's guess and after giving it all a lot of thought I approached the race with a mixture of excitement and caution as I didn't know what Atha Cliath would make of the whole scene. If he repeated his usual antics then we weren't going to get very far.

As things turned out I shouldn't have worried. He took to the unusual fences really well. He wasn't the first, or the last, chancey jumper to be switched on by the challenge. I remember jumping him off towards the back of the field. He did a belly flop at the Chair but apart from that scare and a mistake at the fourth-last, which was more my fault than his, he proved a very safe conveyance.

Some of the English amateurs kept shouting at me to keep out and not to hug the inside going to the Canal Turn. Atha Cliath was about 16.2hh but he was wiry and he took the Canal Turn as if he was turning on a sixpence. It was like riding a pony and as the race developed I couldn't believe how easily we were going.

It was a fantastic result for me at the time and two days later I couldn't believe my luck after picking up a 'spare' in the National. Niall 'Boots' Madden had got injured and I came in for the ride on The Lady's Master, who got as far as the 20th fence where he got baulked and refused.

I had my second and only other ride in the National the following year on Hazy Dawn, who my father trained for singer Roly Daniels. I had won the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham on Hazy Dawn in 1982, but our involvement at Aintree didn't last very long. We got only as far as Becher's on the first circuit where we were one of a few fallers.

I've been lucky enough to train a National winner with Hedgehunter in 2005 and that was special not only for me but for the whole yard, but my first involvement with the Aintree fences will always be a treasured memory. Riding in the Fox Hunters' will be a great experience for Patrick before his first National ride and hope it all goes well for him.

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Dooneys Gate: will be Patrick Mullins' first ride in the Grand National
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 3, 2011
Words:857
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