A starry cast, dramatic twists and turns and an ending few saw coming, yesterday’s Grand National had the lot. And for those who stuck around for the closing credits, there was the sign-off we all needed to see: no animals were harmed in this production.
Nobody was taking anything for granted, even after further safety measures and an incident-free race 12 months ago. An average of a horse per year has been killed in racing’s greatest spectacle since 2002, in other words one in 40, compared with jumping’s general ratio of 1 in 250.
And however much the fences are modified – approaches made more inviting, landing areas levelled – the Grand National will never be totally risk-free; indeed some argue that making the fences less formidable means that horses race faster at them and it’s the speed that kills.
The early pace was hot, it always is, but seeing Paul Carberry sitting close to midfield on Monbeg Dude, instead of trailing around at the back of the field, was evidence that nobody was going crazy up front.
Carberry, who won the race on Bobbyjo in 1999, was having his 18th Grand National ride two months past his 40th birthday and not even partnering a contender with a Royal connection (one of his owners is Mike Tindall, husband of Zara Phillips) and the consequent attention of once-a-year punters was going to phase this coolest of characters.
Nothing pleases Carberry more than coming from nowhere to pinch a race, highlighting his skill and nerve. It doesn’t always work and when it doesn’t, he runs the risk of looking a bit of a dipstick. But when it does, as it did when he nursed a blundering Monbeg Dude home in Welsh National last season, it’s one of jump racing’s most wondrous sights.
Cleared by the racecourse doctor to ride at midday after taking a fall over the big fences in the Topham on Friday, Carberry smiled and winked his way out of the parade ring.
Seventh wasn’t what his famous connections and many supporters were craving – “I thought I might nearly win going to the last, but he just didn’t see out the trip” – but Monbeg Dude’s oft-derided jumping certainly stood up to the test.
There will be other days for these two laid-back dudes – perhaps even this day next year – and that, as is always said with feeling every year at Aintree, is the main thing.