Racing: Aintree claims the life of D'Estruval

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JUST SIX of the 37 pilgrims which set out in the Grand National 12 months ago returned. And one of them was remounted. It was not a survival rate to gladden the RSPCA and today there will be a society inspector at every fence monitoring the effectiveness of safety measures introduced in the wake of Aintree 1988.

The track's notoriety is prompted largely by obstacles such as Becher's Brook, Valentine's and The Chair, yet it is the first fence which regularly catches the most victims. In an effort to make the stampede to the initial test safer the fence has been widened by two metres to give combatants more space to jump. It is now the widest steeplechase obstacle in the country.

"Although the racing industry is making safety a priority and addressing some of our welfare concerns, there is still some way to go and we will continue to monitor and advise on areas where horse safety and welfare becomes an issue," Chris Laurence, the acting RSPCA veterinary officer, said. "We welcome the new safety measures, which are being implemented following an inquiry into the deaths of three horses at last year's Grand National.

"Any death of a horse in sporting competition in unacceptable and the RSPCA will continue to work closely with the racing industry to see that all necessary measures are taken to safeguard racehorse welfare to prevent such tragedies occurring."

No precaution though could have saved poor Gris D'Estruval, who negotiated several of the big fences in the John Hughes Chase, but then fractured a cannon bone on the flat. He was destroyed. Budalus too we will never see again. He was a victim of his own tiredness and bravery in the Oddbins Handicap Hurdle. He fell at the last and did not rise, the crowd shocked as his legs thrashed, the result of a broken neck.

The John Hughes was won by Listen Timmy, who is owned by Stan Clarke but ran in the colours of the Sentinel Racing Club to whom he is leased. Clarke, who owns Lord Gyllene, the National winner two years ago, did see his livery transported to victory in the opener when Barton extended his unbeaten record to seven.

This was not the same energetic Barton we saw at Cheltenham and he had to show that he has steel as well as skill when fighting off the milky- skinned Auetaler. "I know he was not as impressive as at Cheltenham, but people make sure they have their horses 110 per cent for that," Lorcan Wyer, the winning jockey, said. "I do not want to take anything away from the grey horse but that sort of explains why he was not so spectacular this time. What he wants now is the same as me, to be turned out in a field with a big New Zealand rug."

Spendid, however, may still have mountains to climb. The winner of the Mildmay Novices' Chase could now take in Punchestown. "I always said he'd win a good one," David Nicholson, his trainer, reported. "He is a very tough horse, one of the toughest I've had, and in the same mould as Viking Flagship.