Katie Walsh tries to replicate her brother’s pioneering exploits from 12 months ago by claiming victory in the Australian Grand National at Ballarat racecourse on Sunday.
With Ruby successful in 2015 aboard the Ciaron Maher-trained Bashboy, the Walsh family will once again have significant interest in the race as Katie has flown out to Australia to ride I’ll’ava’alf for trainer Patrick Ryan.
I’ll’ava’alf, who races in the same silks as last year’s Melbourne Cup hero Prince Of Penzance, has strong claims, too, after he won the Crisp Steeplechase at Sandown earlier in the month.
Ryan is happy to have Walsh, who won the Irish Grand National on Thunder And Roses at Fairyhouse in 2015, on board.
He told Press Association Sport: “It’s an exciting opportunity for her.
“AJRA (Australian Jumping Racing Association) chairman Sandy McGregor is involved in I’ll’ava’alf and he was instrumental in bringing Ruby over last year and Katie this year.
“I’ve only seen her Irish Grand National ride and when she finished third in the Grand National at Aintree (aboard Seabass in 2012), but I’m happy to place my trust in Sandy, so Katie will do for me.
“Hopefully the horse does well for her and she can have bragging rights over her brother.”
Heavy rain in the Victoria region has seen the ground at Ballarat turn heavy and while officials remain confident of the race going ahead as planned, there is an alternate option in place of running both the Australian National and JJ Houlahan Hurdle at Sandown on Wednesday, should conditions be causing an issue.
Ryan is happy to take his chance on testing ground though.
“He loves the wet stuff, so the ground won’t bother him if they do run at Ballarat,” said the trainer.
“I’ll’ava’alf had a bit of an interrupted build-up leading into the Crisp Steeplechase, so he actually did well to win that day.
“But he’s thrived this week and I think he’s really coming into his peak at just the right time.
“He’s a real old-fashioned steeplechaser – a grinder – so hopefully he’ll give Katie a good run.”