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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 April 2007, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Grand National's Silver lining
By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport at Aintree

SILVER BIRCH - THE HORSE
Jockey Robert Power and Silver Birch
Age: 10
Starts: 21
Wins: 7
2nd: 3
3rd: 2
Prize money: 537,504
It was a victory for Puppy Power. The son of a renowned Irish showjumper. A friend to Liverpool football stars.

On a horse discarded by champion English trainer Paul Nicholls, and trained by a man yet to win in his homeland.

Silver Birch's 33-1 triumph in Saturday's Grand National at Aintree may not have seemed like the greatest possible story to emerge from the race.

But the Irish can tell a good tale, and as the three 20-something young men central to this drama celebrated, their success had a typically colourful hue.

Silver Birch, trained by Gordon Elliott in County Meath, barely touched a twig as jockey Robert Power expertly guided him over 30 fences, and saw off a late challenge from McKelvey.

This was the performance many expected two years earlier, when the horse was well fancied for the famous steeplechase.

After winning the Becher Chase over the big Aintree fences and the Welsh Grand National in 2004, Silver Birch was made favourite.

"I've not had much luck there so far but I really do think this is the horse who could change things for us," Nicholls said at the time.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Honest Frank

Injury weeks before the race ruled him out, and then the horse had three runs which saw him twice pulled up before falling at the Chair in the 2006 National.

Silver Birch was sold out of the Nicholls yard, which has enjoyed wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup with See More Business and Kauto Star, but not the Aintree Grand National.

Ironically, it was a former employee of Nicholls' rival Somerset stable, the Pipe yard, who manufactured the purchase.

Gordon Elliott was an amateur rider and worked with 15-times champion trainer Martin Pipe and son David for several years, before starting as a trainer 12 months ago.

Elliott advised young racehorse owner Brian Walsh to buy Silver Birch, and got him at Doncaster Sales for the relatively low price of 20,000 in May 2006.

"Although Silver Birch looked A1 and was surprisingly cheap, he was in a right old state," said Walsh.

I never thought this would happen, but thank God it did

Winning jockey Robert "Puppy" Power

The horse was lame. After veterinary advice, he was given special fibre injections, a month's rest, and his health improved.

He was campaigned carefully, came second in the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and then claimed the ultimate victory.

While the Pipes' two National runners barely featured, they cheered Silver Birch like one of their own and hugged Elliott after victory.

"He really is a fantastic guy. I'm delighted for him," the now-retired Martin, winner of the 1994 National with Miinnehoma, told BBC Sport.

Winning jockey Robert Power is a popular figure - fellow rider Paul Carberry nicknamed him "Puppy" Power, because he reminded him of a lovable little pet.

Robert is the son of Irish showjumper and trainer Con Power, a master of helping horses who have difficulty learning to jump properly.

Despite chaotic scenes after the sixth Irish-trained National winner in nine years, the jockey was self-effacing.

He even dealt with the advances of a persistent lady racegoer as I escorted him back to the weighing room past crowds of well-wishers and autograph hunters.

SILVER BIRCH - THE TEAM
Trainer: Gordon Elliott, 29, based in Trim, County Meath. Has only trained total of four winners, all in Britain
Jockey: Robert Power, 25. Son of showjumper/ trainer Con Power. Won 2003 Midlands Grand National (Intelligent) and Galway Plate (Nearly a Moose)
Owner: Brian Walsh, 26. Farmer and stud owner from Kilcock, County Kildare

"I never thought this would happen, but thank God it did. Gordon picked him up for nothing and he looks a bargain now," he said.

"It's unbelievable. But this doesn't mean I'm a better jockey than I was this morning."

Con, known as "Captain", watched the race in France where he was attending a showjumping event.

He was an international showjumper in the days of Harvey Smith when the Yorkshire rider gave his famous V-sign.

And so to the party, where Elliott promised they would be drinking champagne - in pints.

Another Power, Paddy - the bookie - promised 5,000 of free drinks all round at Aldo's bar in Liverpool, if an Irish horse won the National.

The pub is owned by former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland striker John Aldridge, and Anton Murphy, who represents several former footballers.

Murphy, in between his exuberant shouts of "Puppy Power", excitedly told in the winner's enclosure of the jockey's love for the Reds.

The race broke all records for bookmaking

Bookmaker David Williams

"Robbie Fowler's his best mate. Puppy came over to watch Liverpool beat Barcelona, and Galatasaray and then PSV on Wednesday night - and now this is his fourth win here," said Murphy.

Celebrations continued into the night and were a messy affair, as was the start and end of the big race.

A review will be held into the delayed and chaotic start, which saw the horses fail to get away correctly several times.

The race after the National was held up for 45 minutes, and the final contest abandoned, as the runner Graphic Approach was treated for concussion before being taken to an equine hospital.

He had veered off course near the Chair, and crashed into rails, leaving three officials with minor injuries.

Meanwhile, bookmakers celebrated as the sun brought droves of punters to the course, and a long-shot winner was followed home by 12-1 chance McKelvey, Slim Pickings (33-1) and the 100-1 chance Philson Run.

Joint favourite Point Barrow fell at the first, and several other leading contenders disappointed. The popular Simon travelled well before falling six from home.

"The race broke all records for bookmaking - we're breathing an enormous sigh of relief," said Ladbrokes spokesman David Williams.



SEE ALSO
Silver Birch wins Grand National
14 Apr 07 |  Horse Racing
Review promised for Aintree start
15 Apr 07 |  Horse Racing
Grand National day as it happened
14 Apr 07 |  Horse Racing


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