04/14/2007 12:00AM

Silver Birch wins Grand National

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Silver Birch surprised 39 rivals in the $1.38 million Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday, as the 33-1 shot held off the late challenge of Mckelvey in the 4-1/2-mile marathon.

The 10-year-old gelding, trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott, jumped to the lead under Robbie Power at the second last of 30 fences and had enough gas left in the tank enough left to repel the 12-1 Mckelvey by three-quarters of a length, with the 33-1 Slim Pickings another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. The 100-1 Philson Run was fourth while the 10-year-old mare Liberthine, running in foal to 1993 French Derby winner Hernando, finished fifth, 22 lengths behind the winner.

Last year's winner Numbersixvalverde was another 21 lengths back in sixth, while the 2005 winner and last year's runner-up, Hedgehunter, came home a distant ninth. Of the three 8-1 co-favorites, Joe's Edge was eased, Monkerhostin left the course, and Point Barrow fell, as 13 of the 40 starters completed the course. So testing is the Grand National that both Mckelvey and Slim Pickings were unable to return to the unsaddling enclosure and went straight back to their barns. Mckelvey's trainer, Peter Bowen, said that his horse had managed to finish second despite having broken down.

Silver Birch, who had won the 3 1/16-mile Welsh National at Chepstow in December 2004, had signaled his readiness for Aintree when winning a 3 7/8-mile cross-country chase at Cheltenham on March 13. The Irish-bred had actually been the antepost favorite for the 2005 Grand National before being knocked out of the race by injury. He had SINCE been purchased by current owner Brian Walsh for just $39,000. First prize in this year's Grand National was $789,698.