By J. Keeler Johnson
A thrilling two-horse battle unfortunately turned to tragedy in the $450,000 Grand National (G1) on October 19 at Far Hills. While leading into the stretch, Wicklow Brave fell at the final fence and fractured his shoulder, allowing Brain Power to romp home the uncontested winner of a somber race.
A dozen runners went to post for the historic 2 5/8-mile Grand National, with the versatile Wicklow Brave favored at 8-5. The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old had won group stakes races on the flat and in both hurdle and steeplechase races, with a triumph in the 2016 Irish St. Leger (G1) at the Curragh among his most notable triumphs.
With three straight steeplechase victories under his belt, Wicklow Brave set out confidently under jockey Paul Townend, tracking longshot Iranistan much of the race. Meanwhile, Brain Power — a Group 2 winner over hurdles at Cheltenham in Ireland but eased in his two previous runs this year — was tracking the pace in fourth place.
At the seventh fence, Brain Power jumped poorly, but the gelding stayed on his feet and kept jockey Nicolai DeBoinville in the saddle. Approaching the final turn, Wicklow Brave made his bid for the lead and Brain Power matched the move, rallying smoothly into contention to challenge the favorite while leaving the rest of the runners far behind.
Charging into the uphill stretch, Wicklow Brave still held the advantage and appeared to be moving strongest despite stumbling briefly on the far turn. But after clipping the final fence, Wicklow Brave unseated Townend and fell, leaving Brain Power to continue on and score by 15 lengths in 4:55.60 seconds.
Scorpiancer narrowly held off a late charge from Moscato to secure the runner-up spot, while second choice Jury Duty finished another 18 ½ lengths back in fourth place. Six of the runners failed to finish the race, with five being eased and walked away. Far Hills reported via Twitter that Wicklow Brave had been humanely euthanized.
Brain Power returned $13.00 to win and gave five-time British champion jumps trainer Nicky Henderson his first victory in a Grand National, regardless of country. Owned by Michael Buckley, Brain Power is an eight-year-old son of Kalanisi out of the Old Vic mare Blonde Ambition. The Grand National marks the biggest triumph of Brain Power’s career thus far and boosted his record to 21-8-2-1.