DIARY – AINTREE
SATURDAY 14 APRIL 2012
GRAND NATIONAL DAY – PART II
And the winner is ... Neptune Collonges
Soon it was time for the feature race of the day. Each year, a short ceremony takes place when the Grand National trophy is carried out onto the racecourse, accompanied by members of the Household Cavalry acting as security. I have to say that the more times I see this ritual happen, the more bazaar and pointless it appears!
Having found the best vantage point within my particular enclosure earlier in the day, I remained there throughout the Grand National. However, I was able to view the Parade Ring proceedings on the big screen positioned across the racecourse from me.
The jockeys exited the Weighing Room, led down the steps by last year’s winning jockey, Jason Maguire. There was a photo-call for the riders in the Winners’ Enclosure, whereby they were arranged around the podium for the shot. The jockeys then went into the main area of the Parade Ring to meet up with their respective trainer and owners before being legged up onto their mounts and exiting onto the racecourse.
Ruby Walsh had been stood down for the remainder of the day following a heavy fall from Zarkandar earlier in the afternoon; Paul Townend replaced him aboard On His Own, the ride aboard The Midnight Club then being taken by Andrew Tinkler.
Once the horses were out on the racecourse, the stable lads and lasses sorted their charges into number order; those numbered 1 to 20 in the first vanguard; those 21 to 40 in the second. The competitors were then led up in front of the stands before heading across the Melling Road to examine the first fence prior to returning to the starting gate.
It was at this point that AP McCoy’s mount, Gold Cup winner Synchronised, jinked when passing under the starting gate, depositing his jockey on the grass before disappearing at the canter along the back straight of the park course. Upon reaching the far bend he turned to his right and began to canter in the reverse direction along the Grand National course. However, instead of bypassing the first fence he reached via the safety chute, he headed for a gap in the fencing to the inside of the course and was quickly caught by an official press photographer.
AP climbed into one of the service cars and was driven to collect his mount. One of the vets checked the horse was okay, listening to the horse’s heart too, before AP was reunited with Synchronised to canter back to rejoin the others. Having reached the junction with the main Grand National course, AP turned left to take his mount to look at the first obstacle. Initially Synchronised seemed a little spooked by the fence. The partnership then cantered back to join the other 39 runners at the start.
West End Rocker, who was very much on his toes, was led around at the start by Travelling Head Lad Matt Howells.
Then they were off ... or rather they weren’t!!! Hello Bud, Midnight Haze and Alfa Beat broke the tape. It was restrung across the course and they tried lining up again; too close and the runners were asked to take a turn as a number of them were too far behind the others. They tried again. Still no success; West End Rocker, on the outside of the runners, plunged through the tape and it got caught around his saddle, Wayne Hutchinson unable to free himself. Matt Howells went to assist and unstrung him. The tape was stretched across the course yet again; a further unsuccessful attempt, the runners were requested to turn once more.
And, finally, they were off! As always the runners headed away from the grandstands and across the Melling Road with gusto; Becauseicouldntsee ahead over the first. Also prominent were Giles Cross, Seabass, and According To Pete; Alfa Beat over-jumped the fence and sprawled on landing but jockey Davy Russell survived the blunder. However, Viking Blond fell, the only casualty at this fence; the jockey reportedly suffering a badly cut cheek, and possibly a fracture thereof too.
Over the second fence; the fancied Junior and, very surprisingly, West End Rocker, both fell. The latter continued rider-less to the next, the open-ditch, and just managed to scramble over that before running loose around further obstacles. The almost white Swing Bill led to the third, after which the Barry Geraghty ridden Shakalakaboomboom took over at the head of affairs.
The next to depart was State Of Play, who unseated jockey Noel Fehily at the 5th fence. The prostrate jockey brought down Rare Bob, and the latter brought down Chicago Grey. The remaining 34 runners headed down towards Becher’s Brook. The next to depart was Gold Cup winner Synchronised, the only casualty at this fence; fortunately the horse appeared okay and, having got to his feet, he continued after the other runners.
The seventh fence is the Foinavon fence, the smallest on the circuit. However, it caught out Alfa Beat who fell when in mid-division, hampering Cappa Bleu. Onwards to the Canal Turn where, despite there being a false rail on the inside leading up the fence, the runners bunched up towards the inside. Black Apalachi fell, whilst four unseated their riders; Organisedconfusion, Tatenen, Killyglen and Becauseicouldntsee. Others hampered here were Neptune Equester, Mon Mome and Treacle.
Shakalakaboomboom continued to lead, from Planet Of Sound and the Katie Walsh ridden Seabass. Treacle fell at the 10th fence; Arbor Supreme unseated his jockey when he refused here. Synchronised could be seen to the rear of the runners but, instead of taking the bypass route around the fences, he continued to jump. However, by the 11th, the open-ditch, the horse had run out of momentum and struggled to clear the obstacle; his off-hind appearing to get caught on the fence as he scrambled to the landing side. He then disappeared from view. Giles Cross had been pulled up before the 11th.
Planet Of Sound, having joined the leader, took over at the head of affairs at the 12th; he continued to lead as the field headed back over the Melling Road and cleared two further plain fences before reaching the biggest fence on the course, The Chair. Always Right blundered here and unseated his pilot, James Reveley, hampering Swing Bill in the process; Deep Purple also made an error.
Heading out into the country once more, Planet Of Sound continued to lead. Quiscover Fontaine fell at the first fence on the second circuit, the 17th, when in mid-field. The order at the front of the field was Planet Of Sound, from Shakalakaboomboom, Seabass, Own His Own and veteran Hello Bud. Deep Purple was pulled up before the open-ditch; Vic Venturi refused here.
The runners were diverted around the fence before Becher’s Brook; it later transpired it was not an injured horse, it was jockey Noel Fehily who had sustained a broken leg. One of the loose horses jumped the fence, fortunately towards the outside wing so that he missed the team of medics working to the far side of the obstacle near the inside of the course. Both Mon Mome and Postmaster were pulled up.
There were two more casualties at Becher’s, On His Own fell when disputing third place, bringing down According To Pete in the process. Hampered at the fence were Tharawaat and Weird Al. Neptune Collonges hit the Fionavon fence; Shakalakaboomboom briefly retook the lead as the field cleared the Canal Turn, Planet Of Sound regaining it at Valentine’s Brook.
Planet of Sound blundered 4 out, Barry Geraghty’s mount ahead once more; the final faller was Weird Al, who departed here when in rear. Heading across the Melling Road for the final time there were 8 horses in the leading group - Shakalakaboomboom, Seabass, Hello Bud, Sunnyhillboy, Ballabriggs, Neptune Collonges, In Compliance and the fading Planet Of Sound. Cappa Bleu was making progress in behind these.
Seabass led over 2 out, Sunnyhillboy jumping the last in unison with Katie Walsh’s mount. These two then set sail for home. Neptune Collonges then began to stay on as Shakalakaboomboom, Ballabriggs and In Compliance began to tire. Sunnyhillboy appeared to have victory within his grasp as Seabass dropped away. However, under a strong drive from Daryl Jacobs, the grey began to close as the line approached. Photo finish. The judge would decide.
In third place was Seabass under Katie Walsh; the highest ever placing by a female jockey in the race. Staying on to claim 4th was Cappa Bleu.
It was a tense wait for those involved whilst the judge deliberated. Then it was announced. Neptune Collonges had won by a nose! The first grey to win since Nicolaus Silver in 1961 and the third in history (The Lamb having won it in 1868 & 1871); also the highest weight carried to victory since Red Rum carried 12 stone in 1974!
Jockey Daryl Jacob was delighted; raising his eyes and arms to heaven; Assistant Trainer Dan Skelton was ecstatic too. The victory meant that Paul Nicholls retained the Champion Trainer title. Neptune Collonges was either the trainer’s 52nd or 53rd runner in the Grand National. (The former according to RUK, the latter according to the Sunday Times!)
There had been 15 finishers this year. The full finishing order and details of each competitor’s fate are as follows:
And those which did not finish:
The owner, John Hales, was delighted and promptly confirmed that it had been his intention to retire the horse, win or lose. He said he felt that Aintree owed him one, having lost his beloved grey One Man during the running of the 1998 Melling Chase at the course. Noland, who had run in the previous race on the card and also owned by John Hales, was retired too. He’d pulled up in that event.
There was prize money for the runners, up to and including the 10th placed horse, which was Swing Bill.
Instead of returning to the beginning of the horse-walk and being led down in front of the grandstands, the winner was led in through the main gateway and back to the Winners’ Enclosure.
As I didn’t fancy experiencing the crush which would no doubt occur around the Winners’ Enclosure, I remained in my vantage point on the top step of the Earl of Derby Terrace. I would collect my Tote winnings later.
Following the race, Wayne Hutchinson and Alan King met up near the finishing line; both searching for West End Rocker, Wayne shrugged his shoulders. Eventually the horse was found, being led back along the course from the direction of Becher’s Brook. However, he was still very full of himself and neither Alan nor Wayne could persuade him to stand still long enough to be unsaddled, as he lashed out at them a number of times. Finally the saddle was released and the horse was led back to the unsaddling enclosure.
The starting gate for the following race was located in the far corner of the track. The organisers were trying to catch up the time lost due to the delay encountered before the Grand National. However, it didn’t help that Lightening Rod arrived at the start some way behind the others.
Then they were off; first time. There was a certain amount of bumping and barging as the runners headed towards the first bend; Paintball clipping heels and stumbling; he then nudged the plastic rail and dislodged it from the uprights.
Leading was Constant Contact, from Kealigolane and Dream Esteem. In rear were Lifestyle, Helium and Lightening Rod. The grey Kealigolane led over the second, from Dream Esteem, Dee Ee Williams, Constant Contact and Akula. Slow over the third was Gibb River.
Heading around the grandstand bend, Kealigolane continued to lead from Dream Esteem, Constant Contact, Dee Ee Williams, Akula, Conquisto, Saute, Idarah, Jubail, Paintball, Ericht, Sire De Grugy, Ubi Ace, Inis Meain, Ciceron, Redera, Gibb River, Lifestyle, Helium, Kazlian, and Lightening Rod. Helium flattened the 5th flight; the grey Idarah hit the next.
Dream Esteem took over the lead 4 out and continued at the head of affairs around the far bend, from Dee Ee Williams, Ubi Ace, Akula, Constant Contact, Kealigolane, Lifestyle, Conquisto, Sire De Grugy and Jubail. Into the home straight her challengers were Dee Ee Williams, Lifestyle, Conquisto and Sire De Grugy.
Lifestyle continued to gain on the leader, challenging approaching the last and taking the lead having cleared it. She galloped on to win by one length from the running on Conquisto. Gibb River snatched third on the line from Dream Esteem. Dee Ee Williams completed in 5th.
I decided to return to the concourse to collect my Grand National winnings. Unfortunately, due to the short odds of both Seabass (joint favourite) and Cappa Bleu, my each-way payout was a mere £14.40, including stake; a loss of £9.60.
Having visited the Tote office I walked back towards the entrance to the Earl of Derby enclosure but, with my badge having been checked, I decided to stand beneath the shelter of the stairwells as it was now raining. I watched the runners for the final race exit along the horse-walk before braving the elements to stand beside the course-side rails to watch it.
The starting gate for this race was located in the far corner of the track; with one and a half circuits to travel. Three jockeys were substituted following mishaps during the Grand National. Aidan Coleman replaced AP McCoy aboard the favourite Population; Dougie Costello replaced Brian Hughes aboard Big Water; Brendan Powell Junior replaced Noel Fehily aboard Stock Hill Fair.
Then they were off; first time. The runners were led away by Howaboutnow, from stablemate Ifyousayso, Sir Johnson, Kaysersberg, The New One, My Tent Or Yours, Stock Hill Fair, Lataradud, Il Presidente, My Inheritance, Devon Drum, Minella For Fitness, Population, Nemi, Big Water, Ballyvogue, Yes Daddy, Many Clouds and Court Minstrel.
The runners had made sedate progress down the home straight. Ifyousayso was now leading from Kaysersberg, Lataradud, Sir Johnson, Howaboutnow, My Tent Or Yours, Stock Hill Fair, The New One, My Inheritance, Il Presidente, Devon Drum, Population, Minella For Fitness, Nemi, Big Water, Ballyvogue, Yes Daddy and Many Clouds; Court Minstrel still in rear.
Ifyousayso continued to lead as the runners headed up the back straight and around the far bend, the favourite Population and Many Clouds forced out wide. The always prominent Sir Johnson took the lead three furlongs out, My Tent Or Yours and The New One his challengers as they galloped between the wings of two out.
Barry Geraghty’s mount assumed pole position before the furlong marker and initially it looked like he would win. But Sam Twiston-Davies aboard The New One asserted close home to claim the prize by 1¼ lengths. Sir Johnson completed in 3rd, Court Minstrel taking 4th.
For the first time today, I returned to the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses return. The presentations having been completed, I then waited a few minutes hoping the crowd had begun to disperse.
Hoping not to make a ‘pit stop’ during my trip home, I popped to the loo before walking through the betting ring to reach the racecourse crossing point. As usual, the litter problem at Aintree post racing is unbelievable! I crossed the racecourse to join the back of a long queue waiting to catch a bus back to the car park. I suppose I could have changed my shoes and walked back across the infield to reach the Melling Road crossing, but on this occasion I just couldn’t be asked!
Having waited for around 15 minutes, it was my turn to board a bus; it drove slowly in a clockwise direction around the perimeter road to decant me opposite the entrance to the Steeplechase car park. I walked across the back straight via the all weather crossing point, over the Melling Road and out into the car park.
Having returned to my car, I ate a quick snack and spoke to my mum via my mobile phone; she’s a bit of a worrier and likes me to call her to let her know that everything is okay when I’m away from home on my own. I think it’s even more important to keep in touch since dad passed away early last year. She watched the big race on TV and told me two horses had died during the event; Synchronised and According To Pete. I was shocked; I’d heard nothing in the aftermath of the race. Although I suppose I may have been enlightened had I owned a smart phone, which would have enabled me to check for news.
Putting the news behind me, I set off for home. I started my journey at 18:50; it took 30 minutes of queuing to reach the beginning of the M57. Having joined the M62 eastbound carriageway I overtook a horsebox; it was Tim Vaughan’s box. It was not long before I was heading southbound down the M6. There was a long tailback on the other carriageway, near Crewe I think, there had been an accident.
Darkness gradually fell. As always I took the M6 through Birmingham, not the Toll Road; I pay enough road tax without contributing any extra! Despite it being dark, the closeness to the motorway of the electricity pylons made an impression upon me. I then entered the worst part of my journey, the section between Birmingham and the M1. There are no lights on this section of the motorway and, being of advanced years, my eyesight is not at its best during the hours of darkness.
Having reached the M1, the remaining stretch of my journey upon the motorway would be lit. There were road repairs being carried out just north of Watford Gap, the motorway being reduced to just one lane, the outside one. I managed to move into the middle lane before vehicles began to queue, but not into the outside one. So, moving at a snail’s pace, the lines of traffic merged, then after a short distance the bottleneck disappeared and everyone was on their way again.
As with my journey up to Liverpool, there were long standing roadworks from Milton Keynes to Luton, a 50 mph limit being in operation. Having reached Junction 12, which is Toddington, I almost feel on home territory as my younger brother lives in Bedfordshire and when visiting his home I leave the motorway at this junction. Come to think of it, both my brothers live in Bedfordshire!
I left the motorway at Junction 10, Luton; driving back through Harpenden to reach my home city of St Albans. I entered my driveway at 22:45. Having not eaten properly for two days I prepared a snack before logging on to my laptop to write my daily blog; two days to catch up on. Too tired to upload my photographs though; that would have to wait until the following day.
I finally turned in at 02:00 in the morning. Fortunately, this year, there was no expedition to the races the following day.
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Having checked my Lotto ticket the next day, I discovered that I’d won £10 on the previous day’s draw. So, all in all, I was £0.40 in profit for the day! I’d love to win the Lotto jackpot (wouldn’t we all) so that I can retire from work and move to the country.
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During the Punchestown Festival, the Irish photographer who caught the loose Synchronised was interviewed by one of the ATR presenters. He said the horse was just like an old donkey, very calm following his escapade. He confirmed that the veterinary staff carefully checked the horse over before AP remounted to head back to the starting gate.
The photographer remained at his chosen location so saw as the rider-less Synchronised attempted to jump the open-ditch, fence 11. The horse jumped it awkwardly he said, catching his off hind; the photographer said the horse came to a standstill shortly afterwards, his injured leg hanging, broken. The photographer became upset when recalling the tragic scene.
Jonjo O’Neill had suffered unbelievably bad luck; the horse surviving the original fall at Becher’s Brook, only to be fatally injured when running loose. Especially when recalling the loss in 1979 of Gold Cup winner Alverton; who died when falling in the Grand National that same year, at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit. His jockey was Jonjo.
Click here for photos – The Grand National
Click here for photos – Parade of Champions, Legends Charity Race & Races 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 & 7