Racing: Becher's Brook proves fatal for Coonawara

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The Independent Online
The compelling and cruel nature of Aintree was quickly evidenced yesterday. There is no more thrilling sight than watching equine mountaineers tackle these big fences, but inherently no greater threat of fatality. Coonawara provided expressive arguments for both those who delight in and revile the unique demands of Liverpool, skipping thrillingly over the great walls of spruce until a mistake suddenly ended his life.

The 11-year-old crumpled on landing at Becher's Brook and was immediately pulled up. A broken femur meant he had to be put down. In the last race of the day, a hurdle event, Silver Shred shattered her near-hind pastern and was destroyed.

There was plenty of damage elsewhere in the John Hughes Trophy. The Frog Prince was pulled up with a suspected fractured near-fore and his future was placed in the hands of those at the Animal Hospital annexe of Liverpool University. Romany Creek was also pulled up lame and bandaged up for travel back to Newmarket.

The casualties were not restricted to the horses. Three jockeys were pummelled in a first fence pile-up and had their prospects of riding in tomorrow's Grand National jeopardised. Carl Llewellyn, Jamie Evans and Robert Thornton were ferried to Fazakerley Hospital for x-rays to determine the extent of their injuries. Evans was later passed fit to ride Mugoni Beach in the National.

Master Boston, who is also entered in the National, hardly showed his liking for the obstacles in the John Hughes by unseating Richard Guest at the second. Among the 40 declared for the big one yesterday was the former Gold Cup winner Master Oats, which means there will be a maximum of nine horses in the handicap proper.

Master Boston was actually first past the post yesterday, both he and the riderless Griffins Bar causing wild confusion in the closing stages. Glenn Tormey on the leader, Bells Life, could have been forgiven for believing he was the subject of a conspiracy as the unmanned horses first almost forced him to jump an extra fence and then shepherded him across to the other side of the course on the run-in. The partnership survived the jostling to win.

An earlier casualty, in the Martell Cup, was the mighty grey One Man, but thanks to Richard Dunwoody's judicious thinking he will live to fight again. Towards the end of the first circuit the Irishman's yellow silks began to take on the appearance of a butcher's apron as it became clear the race was over for one combatant.

"Jason [Titley] was the first to say 'you've burst, you've burst [a blood vessel]', and I looked down and had blood on my breeches," Dunwoody reported. "Merry Gale had a red tongue tie and I just wondered whether it might be blood coming from him as I was behind him, but then he came past me.''

The grey's immediate submission left Barton Bank to stride on for victory. Of the 11-year-old's manifold qualities one seems to be a terrible memory. Barton Bank has taken some horrible falls in his career and if he recollected any single one of those he would surely refuse to board a horsebox bound for Aintree. "The old horse has been running consistently well all season and he's held his condition better than he's ever held it in his life," David Nicholson, the winning trainer, said. "He deserves to win a big one. He gives himself more chance to jump these days because he used to be very free. Today he went round with the reins in loops, relaxed.''

The most cogent manifesto of the week was produced by the Temple Guiting trainer, who also succeeded with Escartefigue and Midnight Legend (whose owner, Stan Clarke, is represented by the favourite, Lord Gyllene, in the National).

A further Nicholson horse, Mulligan, mixed jumping prowess with sudden calamity. After Flying Instructor had bailed out three out in the Maghull Novices' Chase, it appeared the little chestnut would succeed. At the following fence, however, he threw himself to the floor, leaving Squire Silk to cause further work for the fence builders at the last before limping home for victory.

The fortunes of Squire Silk's jockey, Jamie Osborne, somehow encapsulated the day. After this success he said: "Whoever's up there in the sky was obviously looking after me. I hope I haven't used up all my luck for the meeting.''

An hour later the well of good fortune did run dry. L'Opera touched down head first in the Glenlivet Anniversary Hurdle and reminded Osborne that at Aintree it pays to celebrate the good times immediately.

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