The 2006 John Smiths Grand National was billed as a clash of the titans, with Tony McCoy going up against Ruby Walsh for the prestigious steeplechase crown, but it was a lesser known jockey by the name of Niall “Slippers” Madden who steered Numbersixvalverde to an impressive 6 length victory ahead of the Irish pair. Bedecked in the green, black and white colours of his owner, Trevor Hemmings, he strode across the line with his fist held in the air in triumph.
The race had not had the most auspicious beginning as Ross Com poked his nose over the tape causing a false start in the process. However, the field regrouped and they were soon on their way, with Andrew Tinkler on Shotgun Willy making the early running with Ballycassidy ridden by Leighton Aspell for company.
Approaching the halfway stage, Puntal had joined the party ridden by former National winning jockey, Barry Geraghty. He and the Peter Bowen trained Ballycassidy surged to a 4 length lead two thirds the way round the Aintree course.
By the 20th fence, only 4 runners had fallen and the much backed joint favourite and reigning champion Hedgehunter joined the leaders along with Irish compatriot Numbersixvalverde. The field became strung out and with just 6 fences to go, it had turned into a three horse race with Niall Madden’s ride seemingly out of it in 4th.
Could Hedgehunter become the first horse to win back to back Aintree Nationals since Red Rum? Sadly, no. The chance faded away as Numbersixvalverde defied the odds to surge back into contention and strike the front going into the elbow after clearing the last at a pace. He kicked on and stretched out to an eventual 6 length victory.
The winner had outfought, outraced and outrun the field to claim the £399,140 in prize money and add to the already proud record of the Irish in the Aintree prize steeplechase. Bernard Carroll couldn’t wipe the smile of his face as his man had triumphed over the two big favourites ridden by Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh.
It had been a race worthy of the occasion and one that Niall Madden would never forget.