Grand National photo-finish marred by deaths


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The Independent Online

Thousands of racecourse spectators and millions of TV viewers watched the closest Grand National in history today, but the event was marred by tragedy as big favourite Synchronised died after a fall.

There was relief among the bookies after grey outsider Neptune Collonges, at 33/1, edged to a photo-finish victory in the 165th running of the world's most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Merseyside.

The race was late starting after Synchronised threw his jockey Tony McCoy and got loose.

Synchronised was rounded up and reunited with McCoy in time to run, but was one of two mounts to die following falls - the other was According to Pete.

The organisers of the race said a third horse, Killyglen, was receiving treatment but his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

Four horses died at the meet last year, including Dooneys Gate and Ornais during the big race itself.

In the wake of these deaths, the organisers of the Grand National introduced changes to the course this year, which included reducing drops on the landing side of fences.

Commenting on the death of the two horses today, Julian Thick, Aintree Managing director, said: "We are desperately sad at these two accidents and our sympathies are with the connections of both horses.

"When a horse gets hurt, everyone is deeply upset.

"Safety is the first priority for the organisers of the Grand National and we make every effort to ensure that everyone involved in the event is able to participate safely.

"Since last year we have made further significant changes to the course and there have been four races run over the course without serious incident since then.

"After today we will, as always, be looking at all aspects of this year's race to see how we can improve safety further."

Paul Nicholls, the trainer of winner Neptune Collonges, said: "Millions of people watch the race many people get pleasure from it.

"We all knew before we came here the risks.

"The horses get looked after brilliantly but unfortunately these things do happen."

On a happier note, jockey Katie Walsh, 27, came closer than any other woman before to becoming the first female rider to win the Grand National during her debut in the race.

The sister of star jockey Ruby Walsh, who was not able to take part following a fall earlier in the day, brought Seabass in third.

She said: "He gave me an unbelievable spin.

"I was wrong a couple of times and he put me right but it is just a fantastic experience and great to get round.

"I want to go out and do it all over again."

Bookies toasted Neptune Collonges' win after punters laid millions on Seabass in the run up to the race to make it joint favourite with Synchronised.

Fred Done, chairman of bookmaker Betfred, said: "Paying out on Neptune Collonges' National victory is a drop in the ocean compared to the fortune I would have had to shell out if Seabass would have won.

"Katie Walsh winning the world's biggest race could have cost me well over a million quid."

A spokesman for betting shop Paddy Power said: "Punters probably won't remember the 2012 John Smith's Grand National as a race that filled their wallets.

"Seabass finishing third was the only thing that they really had to cheer about as he went off 8/1 joint favourite (together with Synchronised) from 22/1 in the morning, but the bookmakers have certainly come out on top."

Wags Coleen Rooney and Alex Gerrard brought glamour to the racecourse again following yesterday's Ladies' Day.

Liverpool star Steven Gerrard's wife Alex plumped for a tuxedo-inspired Galaxy-style dress in cream and black.

Wayne Rooney's wife Coleen opted for a softer flower and butterfly print for her outfit, dressing son Kai in a white jacket and teal scarf.

The race contributed to a bumper sport day for Merseyside as Liverpool beat Everton 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

During the day, fans of both sides walked around the racecourse with stickers proclaiming "I'm a Red" and "I'm a Blue" and watched the game on screens throughout the course.

A massive cheer went up when Liverpool scored a 1-1 equaliser just as the first race of the day, won by Simonsig, drew to a conclusion.

But Evertonians looked glum after Liverpool striker Andy Carroll grabbed a late winner for the Reds.