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Numbersix is Aintree's number one.

Byline: By Wales on Sunday

Young Irish jockey Niall Madden had one word to describe winning the Grand National at his first attempt - 'magic'.

The 20-year-old nicknamed 'Slippers' - because of the 'Boots' tag given to his father, also called Niall - piloted raider Numbersixvalverde to victory in a exemplary Aintree ride.

Madden crept into the race on the second circuit aboard the 11-1 chance and took the advantage over the final fence to beat Hedgehunter, 5-1 joint- favourite at the start, by six lengths after breaking away around the second last fence.

Hedgehunter was still on the bridle after jumping the last, but his burden of 11st 12lb told and the Gold Cup runner-up, conceding 18lb to his conqueror, had to settle for a gallant second.

Clan Royal, the latter's market rival, was third under Tony McCoy - still waiting for his first National triumph despite being voted champion jockey 10 times - with Nil Desperandum fourth in a race which started five minutes late following a false start.

It meant Numbersixvalverde, trained in County Kildare by Martin Brassil and named after owner Bernard Carroll's holiday home in the Algarve, completed a famous double having won last year's Irish Grand National.

A jubilant Madden said: 'It's brilliant - I had a dream run the whole way round and he jumped super.

'I wasn't sure I'd won until I crossed the line though.

'This means everything to me. It's magic. I've tried to imagine winning this race since I was a boy but I couldn't.'

Brassil said: 'It is unbelievable and it was like watching a movie out there.

'But if you wrote the script, it could not have been better. Niall gave him a great ride and never panicked.

'It is great for Niall as he is a fabulous young jockey and he has got such a great relationship with that horse.

'He was always in a good position and popped away - never doing anything extravagant and he is such a good jumper.'

For Carroll, 61, the victory was the culmination of more than 30 years in racehorse ownership.

'I couldn't watch the race at all - I didn't open my eyes until 20 yards after the winning post,' he said.

'I had my head in the bellies of one of the lads all the way around while they were telling me what was happening.

'I'm a coward but I'm a lucky coward.

'When we were thinking about what name to give this horse, we were lying on the beach in Portugal and we thought, 'why not name him after our place there?'.

'I missed his Irish National win, but there was never any danger of me not being here - my wife and daughters made sure of that.'

Willie Mullins, trainer of Hedgehunter, was far from downcast with the effort of his 10-year-old, who was bidding to become the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to land back-to-back Nationals.

'I was absolutely delighted with him,' he said.

'I thought for a long way we were going to do it. It's great for Martin Brassil to win it, though, and my congratulations go to him.

'I thought the winner had a great chance - he had a very similar profile to Hedgehunter last year. I didn't think we were beaten until they got to the Elbow.

'I thought Ruby [Walsh, Hedgehunter's jockey] had just saved a bit and that the other horse had gone too soon and you just hope that something like that happens.

'As they straightened up after the Elbow, though, I knew the game was up, I was just praying we held on to second place then.

'Red Rum was the last to win back-to-back Nationals and it shows what a special horse he was to win it three times.

'Some horses don't like it when they come back, but he loves it - it brings him to life. Hopefully, we'll be back in 12 months' time.'
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 9, 2006
Words:653
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