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Sunday 15 April 2012

Neptune Collonges wins exciting finish

Having lived close to Aintree all my life, I have become as staunch a supporter of the Grand National as you could get and therefore I feel obliged to make some comment on events yesterday.

For me it was truly a fantastic finish to the race with Neptune Collonges just inching out Sunnyhillboy by a nose in the very last strides, even though all my selections were long out of the race it didnt stop me enjoying what was happening. Neptune now heads into a very honourable retirement having won the greatest race in the world.
Although the race was the closest finish and most thrilling we had seen for sometime the reports of the race were mainly focussing on the two fatalities during it. One of the fallers the Gold Cup winner Synchronised had got loose prior to the start having jinked under the starting tape when heading down to view the first fence. He was of course not affected by this and returned to view the fence with McCoy back on board having been looked over by the course vet which is normal practice in any race.

Once again however the jumps have come under close scrutiny because of the deaths of Synchronised and According To Pete and Becher's Brook just happened to be the fence were both horses fell.
Synchronised, who many pundits pre race had expressed the view that his jumping ability may have left him wanting, skewed the fence when jumping Bechers just as he had done at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup when winning that race, this of course led him to fall. He carried on though without his jockey, running loose, before suffering his fatal injury at or near the 11th fence.
According to Pete was brought down on the second circuit at Becher's having jumped it well, his fall was caused by the inexperienced On His Own who had fallen in front of him and he could do nothing but collide with that one on landing. On His Own had only been in six other races over fences prior to this and one wonders whether there should be a more stringent qualifying criteria to get into the race as regards experience. He was also an 8yo and I note that from the  eight 7 and 8yo in the race yesterday six either fell or unseated. The last winner of the race aged 8 was Bindaree in 2002.

Both of the fatalities could quite easily have happened at any jumps track in the country, not just at Aintree. In my opinion Becher's Brook didnt really have a direct part to play in either of the fatalities.
What was alarming for me though was the speed at which the horses travelled during the early part of the race and this of course is directly down to the jockeys and has nothing to do with the course. There appeared to be a large amount of youthfull exuberance pre the tapes going up for the start which caused the initial false start. The jockeys then repeatedly ignored the starter before the race eventually commenced in earnest at a fast pace. The time of the race bears out that they were going too fast as although it was on Good, Good to Soft in places, they managed to beat the standard time by nearly 5 seconds. I suppose in the back of the jockeys minds they know alterations have been made to the jumps and therefore there is less chance of their horse falling so they they think they can go quicker and that it was thay have done here. It only takes one to do it and all the others follow.

Unfortunately you will always get people forming their own opinions of what has happened in the race, just like I am here, but some opinions are often misinformed and are based on insufficient information being provided. I happened to bump into a neighbour of mine after the race who hadnt seen it but her first comment was about Synchronised having got loose prior to the start and a vet having to be called because he was already injured, I naturally told her what had really happened. Of course it's easy to get  accounts wrong, page 3 of the Racing Post today has Jon Lees reporting that "According to Pete one of the two horses to be put down, which caused the 20th Fence to be bypassed", that of course isnt correct as the 20th fence was bypassed because of an injured jockey on the track not a horse. On that subject I'm not sure why they have to put up a screen for an injured jockey, surely that just adds further flames to the fire as nobody knows whether it's a horse or jockey that is injured and most people would naturally assume it was a horse as did Jon Lees.

Although I am a staunch supporter of the race I realise that the race has to evolve as we go along from year to year, however we cant make it like an ordinary race as the hundreds of millions of people who watch it throughout the world wouldnt watch it anymore if it was similar to 3 mile chase at Bangor and also the local economy around Liverpool would also suffer.

For me the changes that I would be looking to do would be reduce the amount of runners to 30, the Topham and Foxhunters are no less of a spectacle for having that amount of runners and neither would the Grand National be. Tighten up the qualifying criteria to get into the race, the race needs horses that are sufficiently experienced to compete whether by amount or types of races they have run in. Limited jumping experience is just not good enough in what is a primarily a jumping test. The jockeys too need to be brought into line as it is they who control the speed of the race and also any congestion around the jumps, such as happened at the Canal Turn on the first circuit, were several horses were affected. Perhaps stronger warnings or penalties need to be given to them.

I hope whatever happens the race continues for many years to come.