Others owned the credentials, but it was Private Attack who owned the course during the 106th running of the Grand National steeplechase yesterday in Butler.
Lightly regarded in the field of eight and without a previous victory in a sanctioned race, the 9-year-old gelding carried 58-year-old rider Billy Santoro to an impressive score over two previous Grand National winners, Askim and Bubble Economy, as well as the highly regarded Coal Dust. Askim finished second, Bubble Economy third and Coal Dust fifth in the $35,000 race.
It was an especially sweet day for Santoro, who might have ridden into his first appearance in the Maryland Hunt Cup on Saturday.
"He was right on top of everything today," Santoro said of Private Attack. "Alicia [trainer Alicia Murphy] turned out a happy horse. He's usually a total pro, and I tried to settle him behind a horse or two, but he kept jumping into the lead."
Santoro began riding jumpers nearly 40 years ago, then scrapped it for another career in the horse industry. He came back to steeplechasing and teamed with Murphy three jump seasons ago when he was 56. He also teamed with Private Attack, who has been flirting with victory and distinguishing himself in point-to-point races without making a major breakthrough.
"He's always been a true blue who tried to do the right thing," said Murphy, who trains in neighboring Glyndon. "The question has been his health."
To find what was bothering him, Murphy said she "pulled out some of his mane" and sent it to Texas for examination. The diagnosis was too much acidity, and the horse was placed on a stricter, lower-carbohydrate diet.
"All of a sudden he was himself again," Santoro said. "Now, he's bigger and better."
Said Murphy, who plans to run Private Attack in the Hunt Cup, "I'm sure this is a surprise for a lot of people, but not a total one for me."
She said she was concerned as her horse neared the stretch because Private Attack "doesn't have a huge finish, and there were a lot of horses in there known for that. This was certainly the right place to start to have one."
Charles Fenwick III, who was aboard 2006 winner Askim, said Private Attack's connections "have been through four years of zilch" with the horse.
"He's a gritty little horse, so this is an awesome thing for them," he said.
In the secondary feature, Fenwick turned the tables on Santoro, winning with Incomplete by about a length over Twill Do.
The three-race card included a number of spills, and jockey Stewart Strawbridge was taken to a hospital after falling aboard Move West in the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial. Preliminary indications were that he was not seriously injured.
$35,000, The Grand National, stks, 3 1/4 mi over timber 1. Private Attack (W. Santoro) 2. Askim (C. Fenwick III) 3. Bubble Economy (J. Fisher) Time: 6:17 1/5
$15,000, The Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, alw, 3 1/4 mi. over timber 1. Incomplete (C. Fenwick III) 2. Twill Do (W. Santoro) 3. Battle Op (B. Durkee) Time: 6:16 2/5. Scratched: Coal Dust, Irish Laddie.
$5,000, The Western Run Plate, amateur, 3 mi. over timber 1. Western Fling (S. Burke) 2. Professor Maxwell (G. Hundt Jr.) 3. Comanche Station (B. Durkee) Time: 6:30. Scratched: Matinicus Rock, Geometry, Beneficial Man, Takin Inventory, Native Mark.