Bewitching race is bedevilled by a brutal reality

The spectacle became as unsparing as the task. To see Jason Maguire enter the winner's enclosure on foot, carrying his saddle, was to know that none of these horses had anything left to give. They had been asked the hardest of questions, and could now leave it to their masters to come up with a few answers of their own.

For this was as gut-wrenchingly intense a piece of sporting theatre as you will see. The warm spring sunshine may have gladdened the gaudy Merseyside throng, but it would soon cast icy shadows.

As soon as he pulled up, Maguire leapt off Ballabriggs so the saddle could be ripped off and buckets of water flung across his mount's heaving flanks. Tony McCoy, third on Don't Push It, quickly followed suit. So long as they kept the horses moving, they knew they should be all right. At some point, however, everyone else would have to stop and think about what they had seen.

The field had bypassed two fences on the second circuit, including Becher's Brook itself. In each case, it was a macabre impossibility not to know why. At one, the nation glimpsed a blanket over what was unmistakably a carcass. At the next, they saw screens dignifying the final moments of some other stricken creature.

The sport knew, then, that it would again face the sort of challenges that it has met, on the whole, very responsibly in recent years. It would have to remind shocked bystanders that nobody had a right of moral condescension to those who had tended and cherished Ornais and Dooneys Gate, over long years, in all weathers. These returned last night to empty stables. Even in this darkest hour, however, they will comprehend that the thoroughbred population would be reduced far more thoroughly without the sport that gives them purpose as well as love.

And, when it came down to the business end, the despair of neutrals was immediately leavened by the sense that horses, and horsemen, will reliably fortify us against even the most harrowing misadventure. Millions watched the finish with a fresh grasp of the courage being exhibited by the protagonists.

And, as the blurred stampede resolved itself into an agonised duel between Ballabriggs and Oscar Time, indifference would have required a detachment itself suggestive of the very callousness perceived by the race's critics.

The winner is trained by a man who is no longer just Ginger McCain's son. Instead, the trainer of Red Rum will soon become known as Donald McCain's father. For many, the first they knew of McCain Jnr was this broad-shouldered fellow ducking under the rails, half-waddling, half-sprinting to embrace Maguire. Those who follow the sport for the other 364 days of the year, however, could tell you that he has fast turned the strange genius in his blood into something rather more serious. Ginger stabled Red Rum behind a second-hand car showroom in Southport, and galloped him over the beach. Donald already has the most respected jumps stable in the north.

And the runner-up was ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen, whose performance embellished a Corinthian career in the very best traditions of the sport. Last month this dashing young amateur had won the Gold Cup, in the same chocolate-and-orange silks of his father. Here he was completing his credentials as arguably the most accomplished rider of his generation over these fences – a generation, be it noted, that includes the most prolific jockey of all time, in McCoy, and perhaps the most admired, in Ruby Walsh.

Even as your heart rebelled, then, your head told you that yesterday would resonate heroism for so long as society can still abide the discomforts entailed in proving it. It was monstrous, and it was magical.

Ginger, an octogenarian who delights in provoking the tender sensibilities of the age, will scoff at the former; but those goaded by him should still acknowledge the latter. And if either has simple answers, then they are not asking the right questions.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam