Never sighted when a three-figure price for the Kim Muir Chase at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, the ten-year-old mare was a similarly unconsidered 50-1 chance for yesterday’s illustrious three-mile-five-furlong contest.
Settled in the middle of the pack for the majority of the journey by conditional jockey Ben Dalton, Liberty Counsel produced some accurate leaps heading down the back straight for the second time to bring her into contention. Dalton was hard at work turning for home and his mount appeared at the mercy of Away We Go (25-1), with Paul Townend looking for dangers after jumping the second-last fence.
There was little to choose between the pair jumping the final obstacle, but Liberty Counsel dug deep into her reserves to take the prize by half a length.
Home Farm (10-1) and Sweeney Tunes (12-1) rounded off the placings in third and fourth respectively. The surprise result means Away We Go’s handler Willie Mullins is still searching for a first Irish Grand National win.
Denmark-born Love is known for pre-training some of the Gigginstown-owned horses and is the first female to saddle the Irish Grand National winner since Jenny Pitman, who struck with Mudahim in 1997.
Love said: “I’m over the moon. She deserved it. The ground didn’t suit at Cheltenham, but she really tried there. It’s a team effort. She’s a super mare and a very good jumper.”
Meanwhile, Imperial Commander heads a list of 49 horses left in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday following the five-day stage. The 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero could try to make up for missing another crack at last month’s blue riband event with a minor infection. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won the world’s greatest steeplechase twice with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002), has also left in Major Malarkey and Viking Blond.
The big guns at the head of the market have all stood their ground, headed by ante-post favourite On His Own. His trainer Willie Mullins is also represented by Quel Esprit and Quiscover Fontaine as the champion Irish trainer looks to add to his success with Hedgehunter in 2005. That horse’s owner Trevor Hemmings also has Ballabriggs, the winner in 2011, who tries again. His trainer Donald McCain also has Weird Al, Across The Bay and Cloudy Lane, who is not certain to get a run. The second, third and fourth home 12 months ago, Sunnyhillboy, Seabass and Cappa Bleu, are set to renew rivalry while other horses with proven Aintree form are 2011 runner-up Oscar Time, 2010 fourth Big Fella Thanks and triple Topham winner Always Waining. Colbert Station, Teaforthree, Join Together and Chicago Grey are among the other fancied horses remaining in the line-up. Further spice is added with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson having shares in both What A Friend and Harry The Viking, both trained by Paul Nicholls.